Controlling the story is a key aspect of oppressing a group of people. And nobody controls a story more than editors. This plays out when white editors work on race-related writing by people of color, when men edit content by non-men, and when cisgender editors and publishers decide how trans identities are portrayed in the media.
Editors choose headlines for trans writers, change the wording that defines trans experiences, and don't consult trans individuals when cis writers cover gender topics. This even happens at LGBTQ publications who act as the go-to sources for transgender news.
“The fact [is] that I write on trans issues but have never had an editor who is also trans, so all of my work has to be filtered through their cisgender lens. As a result, I often need to extensively justify my work when other colleagues don’t have to, since they work with editors whose knowledge and experience are closer to theirs,” writes Meredith Talusan.
Publishing is shifting, just very slowly. This June, Ashlee Maree Preston was named as editor-in-chief of Wear Your Voice Magazine. And that is a big deal! But with countless stories about trans people being published, including in major media outlets, it’s critical to hire trans editors who can ensure that the language used to describe gender identity is current. (Newsflash: Nobody uses the asterisk to represent the trans umbrella anymore – except cis writers.)
It’s time to hand the red pen to trans folks who are committed to fair and just communication.
Show Readers Some Respect
You can’t respect readers without respecting everyone involved in content creation. When the trans writer is being tokenized or told what to say within a narrow narrative, it comes across in the final result.
Aaminah Shakur shares about confronting transphobia as a writer: “There is a line where I refer to ‘the viewer’ and I use the singular ‘they’ which she changed to ‘he/she’. There is no reason to still be using ‘he/she’ in 2017. It wasn't something that needed to be edited or changed, from a purely grammatical point of view. But it is extra offensive because she knows that I am non-binary and use ‘they’ as my own pronoun and she does not misgender me. So it feels extra insulting to have an opportunity to be gender neutral be edited that way, in a way that erases ME as a viewer too.”
These issues even crop up at LGBTQIA-specific news and media outlets, which employ majority cis editors despite being go-to sources for transgender stories. As Rest for Resistance editor O.A.O. explains, “Editing teaches us to remove redundancy.” Yet most editing positions are filled by cis white folks, which creates an oversaturation of some perspectives at the expense of capturing the full picture of society. Writer and artist Dominic Bradley details the impact: “There is a redundancy in the way that these cis white editors present, omit, or distort facts that obscure the full humanity of the transgender folks being reported on. For example, I have received a detailed picture of Islan Nettles’ death but am still longing to know about her hopes and dreams.”
Compassionate Reporting on Violence
Transphobia in the media shows up at the absolute worst times: When the subject is the violence caused as a direct result of transphobia. Trans people, particularly trans women, are misgendered in obituaries and reports of their untimely deaths.
There's little-to-no respect for trans people in the media when we are alive, and there certainly isn't any when we're no longer around to advocate for ourselves. With trans individuals on editing teams, individuals won't need to speak up for themselves when being disrespected -- people will be on the publishing team, able to ensure trans identities are respected whenever they're written about.
“It is more important now more than ever for trans and gender nonconforming people to be the architects of our own narratives. While trans visibility is at an all-time high, with trans people increasingly represented in popular culture, violence against us has also never been higher. The push for visibility without it being tied to a demand for our basic needs being met often leaves us without material resources or tangible support, and exposed to more violence and isolation. Every day a new piece comes out about transness that is written and published by cisgender folk with industry resources. Every day our stories and our images are misused, sanitized, and extracted from for the gain of others. This is why it is crucial that we uplift and support the work of trans people to tell our own stories – on the screen, on the page, and on the streets,” says Reina Gossett, pushing back against the co-opting of her work by David France to create Netflix’s The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson.
Trans Editors are Deliberate & Considerate
“There is so much power in trans editors because not only will they more likely give more trans and queer writers a voice, but when you hear those voices it’s more likely the essence of what their saying won’t be lost in the editing, which can sometimes happen when you have a cis or non queer editor. The trans experience is not a monolith, but to really capture the nuances of our lives it takes someone who has at least experienced some version of it themselves. If you are not trans you may not even know where those nuances and details begin or that you even needed to look for them in the first place,” says Jaz Joyner.
Not only do trans editors have a more in-depth understanding of how to communicate complexities of gender – we also are likely to have connections to trans individuals and knowledge of trans resources to consult when our personal experiences don't provide enough clarity. Speaking for myself, I’m already engaged in conversations about the language of trans experience on a regular basis, so I’m asking the questions first for personal reasons and not just when an editing assignment makes me stop to consider how gender is communicated. When I seek support in those moments, I’m also continuing conversations with friends. In contrast, when cis writers and editors need to do research, it can take the form of them demanding a free education from trans people. Asking for free work is not what fair representation looks like.
On the Forefront of Innovative Language
Language changes fast, and it's not an editor's job to stop it. If you want to work with someone who can consider many perspectives on grammar and style, hire a trans editor. Often our personal expression relies on keeping up with changes in how complex topics are being communicated, which means trans editors are more likely to respect individual language choices.
Aaminah Shakur explains, “There also has to be space to allow a writer to express themselves as they see fit around their own identity, even if it's different than how others do so, as long as it isn't harmful.”
Even when publications feature trans people speaking for ourselves in quotes, the framework those quotes are situated within can still be transphobic. This is clear in Vox’s article “Gender is not just male or female. 12 people across the gender spectrum explain why.” It’s wonderful to give space to trans folks with a variety of gender identities so that cisgender people can better understand the false binary. However, the text leading up to those quotes conflates terms like woman, feminine, and female. The concepts of gender identity and gender presentation are also lumped together. And overall it’s clear this is set up for cisgender readers to gawk at trans folks, which is tokenizing. Had the same quotes been featured in a framework that centers transgender readers, this would feel more empowering, without the subtext that trans people are interesting freaks from a cisgender perspective.
We Need Trans Editors – and Trans Editors Need Work
The fact is trans editors need jobs too, and that means publishers, authors, businesses, and bloggers have to hire us. Those who understand that trans individuals often fight for our rights on the battleground that is language can’t neglect the way that impacts trans individuals in publishing.
There are still many editors who don’t believe in singular they pronouns, who would look down upon trans folks for choosing to self-identify in ways they think hurt their precious language. Trans writer and editor Sam Dylan Finch says, “At the end of the day, if we care about creating a more just world, trans people – like any marginalized group – should be represented at all levels of media. Not just considered some niche interest in which, every so often, you let one write an article for you as a token.” (Sam wrote a guide to answer cis writer’s questions about transgender identities here.)
Without involving trans folks in the publishing process, there’s no way to ensure that the content being created doesn’t propogate transphobia. The media coverage granted to trans folks now doesn’t reflect true visibility. We can’t see ourselves clearly through the haze of transphobia and are left to dig through hateful content to get at our truth. Our stories will be obscured until transgender individuals are trusted to represent ourselves.
Trans Editors of Color: Send Us Your Résumé
These are just some of the reasons Rest for Resistance has an all-trans editing team. And we need more editors!
If you’re a trans person of color who is interested in joining our team as a contributing editor, please email your résumé and a short introduction to firstname.lastname@example.org. All work at Rest for Resistance is paid on a per-project basis. On behalf of all of us at Rest for Resistance, we look forward to growing our team and creating more community-driven resources together.
If you are not a trans person of color, please consider donating to Rest for Resistance so that we can continue creating jobs for trans POC and publishing resources that center our wellbeing. Thank you!
Edited by Dominic Bradley
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A light brown-skinned person stands in front of city buildings and traffic, holding the transgender pride flag high in the air. He is wearing a black beret, round metal glasses, a denim vest over a black crop top, and a colorful tote bag that says "TRANS 4 TRANS" on the side.
About Dom Chatterjee:
The editor-in-chief of Rest for Resistance and founder of QTPoC Mental Health, Dom believes in the power of community to combat oppression. They are a non-binary desi-dutch-american person living with multiple disabilities.
About Eve Moreno:
Eve Moreno is a trans and queer multimedia artist of color living in South Central Los Angeles, raised by parents that migrated from Mexico City and Santa Ana, El Salvador. Although their work ranges from writing, video and photography, their passion is taking portraits of trans and queer POC, and they find affirmation in self-portraiture work. Follow Eve on Tumblr, Instagram, and their facebook page.