Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), makes a similar argument about media references to Quinn's sex change. "We know why they're doing it — they're doing it because it's a sensationalistic angle, that's all," Keisling tells the Phoenix. "They may be able to come up with some weird rationalization, and pretend it's relevant to the story. But it's irrelevant, it's inappropriate, and it's harmful."
Journalism or advocacy?
Keisling's concern is understandable. Even though dangerous texting is a phenomenon that cuts across every demographic line — and despite the utter dearth of evidence that Quinn's gender change caused the accident in question — certain excitable right-wingers have already seized on the crash as a general indictment of transsexuals. After the accident, for example, right-wing blogger (and Herald city editor) Jules Crittenden asked: "Should people who deny fundamental biological facts and claim to be of the opposite gender be entrusted with large public conveyances that carry dozens of commuters?" (Crittenden also suggested that the National Transportation Safety Board look at whether hormonal treatment might have hampered Quinn's judgment. Based on this reasoning, a bunch of Greater Boston's shitty drivers currently must be switching sexes.)
But here's the problem with these calls for silence: asking the reporters who covered the crash to omit any reference to Quinn's sex change is, in essence, a request for journalists to be advocates rather than reporters.
It's true, as Keisling notes, that journalists don't usually highlight a particular individual's race, unless said individual is a criminal suspect who's still at large, or race plays an obvious role in the story. It's also true that — except in certain instances that reek of personal hypocrisy, like conservative evangelical preacher Ted Haggard's sexcapades with a male prostitute — we don't highlight matters of sexual orientation, either.
But gender is different. In virtually every news story you'll read, hear, or see, the sex of the principals is made clear — through a name, by use of "he" or "she," and/or with references to the "30-year-old Allston man" or "sixtysomething Wellesley woman" being discussed. That's not because journalists are gender-obsessed; it's because gender, for good or ill, is one of the main categories we use to interpret the world.
And while Quinn now identifies as a man, his gender still doesn't fit the traditional binary mode of categorization. That's why Quinn defined himself online as "FtM" — female to male — and why the GLBT site Edge New England, in its coverage of the crash, called him a "Transman." If, hypothetically, every Boston journalist agreed not to report this fact, they'd give the Jules Crittendens of the world one less opportunity to rant. But they'd also be suppressing information they usually report — and, through excessive protectiveness, fostering the notion that transsexual status is shameful.
It's worth noting, too, that the NCTE's Keisling doesn't think trans status should always go unreported. She doesn't mind GLBT-focused outlets like Edge New England or queerty.com highlighting Quinn's transgender status — which they did simply to note that Quinn is one of them. Similarly, Keisling doesn't object to favorable journalistic treatments of the transgendered populace: it's fine with her, for example, if the mainstream media take note when a transgender person breaks a cultural or professional barrier.