It doesn’t rank with July 4, Dec. 7 or 9-11, but Oct. 8, 2016, is a journalistic date to remember, if one cares about the tone and content of journalism and, thus, American public discourse.
There it was in an A1 lead in The New York Times.
No “expletive deleted,” no euphemism, no cautious dashes. In this article a newspaper so dignified it uses honorifics in second references (“Mr. Hitler”) included the B-word, P-word, and T-word in the first four paragraphs above the fold.
What hath Citizen Donald Trump wrought?
Dirty words can still hit broadcasters with federal government wrath. Yet Boston-NYC-DC and Left Coast editors (not so much in Flyover Country) are certainly influenced by the cultural coarsening from showbiz. Now there’s academic imprimatur from cognitive science professor Benjamin Bergen, whose new book “What the F” contends that uttering four-letter words is good for your mental health.
Journalists are still coming to terms with the grammatically incorrect but politically correct pronoun shift as they/them/their supplant the dreaded he/she/her/his. One Times contributor has employed the xe/xim/xir pronoun plan devised by the transgender movement, and another informs us that in this “age of gender fluidity” the recently coined “cisgender” is now the “preferred term” for those whose sex is defined the old-fashioned way, by anatomy, not psychological “sense of gender.”
“Cisgender,” New York Post columnist Maureen Callahan alerts us, is among the neologisms added this year by dictionary.com, alongside “misgender” (mistaking someone’s preferred gender identity) and “panromantic” (“romantically attracted to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities”). Also new to the lexicon is “woke,” to label someone who’s not merely awakened to his/her/their “white privilege” but super-vigilant about “systemic injustices and prejudices.”
Ignoring the new pronouns can get you in trouble, perhaps even in pews and pulpits.
The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination announced Sept. 1 that an amended statute makes “gender identity” a “protected class in places of public accommodations” so it’s now illegal to ignore employees’ preferred “gender appropriate pronouns” as well as their toilet and locker-room choices. If “prejudice” is involved, an infraction becomes a “hate crime.” Will activists demand this language shift at the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald or WBZ?
So why write about this at GetReligion?
Journalists, please note that religious groups are not exempt. Massachusetts doctrine redefines any local church as a “public accommodation” covered by the law if it holds "secular" events “such as a spaghetti supper” open to the general public. That includes most congregations, and they’re required to practice not only pronoun protocol but non-discriminatory hiring. What happens if doctrines discussed in sermons clash with the new orthodoxy?
New formulations have broken out in The Christian Century, biweekly bible of “mainline” Protestantism. The August 17 edition featured a testimonial by Emily Heath, a United Church of Christ pastor in New Hampshire, whose “birth sex” is female but is self-described as “genderqueer” or “gender nonconforming” or “nonbinary.” That is, “while I am comfortable living in a female body I present in a typically masculine manner.” Heath therefore lives in “a same-sex marriage but not a same-gender one.”
Also, in case you haven’t been keeping up, that old LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) formulation has been expanded to LGBTQIA, for instance at Lehigh University and Vassar College, and LGBTQQIAA on the Amherst campus. The added initials stand for queer, questioning, intersex, asexual and “ally” of all the above.
Recall as well the news flurry back when Facebook provided 56 custom choices on gender identity. Many options are simply variations on a theme, for example 10 riffs on “cis” and 26 on “trans.” Then there’s agender, androgyne, bigender, FTM, gender fluid, gender variant, intersex, MTF, neutrois, non-binary, pangender, two-spirit, and of course “neither” and "other.”
Copy editors need to be woke about all this (as well as religion-beat pros).