The Sexist

What Makes Robyn Deane A Woman “In Process”?

On Friday, the Washington Post profiled Robyn Deane—transgender woman, LGBT activist, and former in-law of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. It's an interesting piece—with a couple of strange hang-ups.

First, the headline: "Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's former in-law speaks out for gay rights." Deane certainly does speak out for gay rights, but it seems odd to emphasize that fact above her trans activism. Next, the photo gallery: It begins with a series of photos of Deane applying makeup, hair-spray, and pantyhose, as if to emphasize the fact that Deane's  beauty regimen (quite typical, for a woman) is somehow relevant to that activism.

And then there's this:

For years, Deane, a man who is in the process of becoming of woman, had considered revealing her lengthy but largely unknown connection to Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R). She had told no one that this would finally be the moment she went public.

From whose perspective is Deane "a man who is in the process of becoming of [sic] woman"? The state of Virginia? The Washington Post? Deane's herself?

The Post identifies Deane with feminine pronouns. It also implies that Deane very much considers herself a woman—it mentions that "she changed her name from Bob to Robyn, and transformed herself from a cleanshaven, dark-haired man to a blond woman saving her pennies for sex reassignment surgery." The story states outright that Deane previously "came out as a woman" to her family. What criteria is the Post using to classify Deane as "a man" in the process of "becoming" a woman? The paper doesn't say.

  • kza

    Maybe they were reffering to the past when Deane was a man but then they forgot past tense existed? Or maybe it's one of the papers JV writers on this story.

  • Kit-Kat

    I assume you're being deliberately disingenuous, because it's pretty clear to me that the WaPo refers to Deane as a man becoming a woman because she is pre-op and still has male genitalia ("saving her pennies for sex reassignment surgery"). I mean, you can disagree with using that as the criterion, but it's pretty obvious that's what it is.

  • Amadi

    Trans* failure is so pernicious and happens so frequently in the media there could be an entire blog dedicated to it. If I had time on my hands, I'd start it.

  • kza

    They call refer to her with a female pronoun though. I just don't think thry had a good writer on the story. I'm pretty sure there's an AP guide for this sort of thing.

  • Amadi

    @KitKat if genitalia is what determines whether someone is a man or a woman, we're in bad shape. That's not the standard. (By that standard, the vast majority of FTM trans* people would never be able to be considered men, because of the difficulties of phalloplasty.) The style guidelines for how trans* people are to be referred to in the media are clear: they are what they say they are. If they say "I am a woman" and want to be referred to by a female name and feminine pronouns, that's what you do. Period.

  • DirkJohanson

    Amandi writes, "@KitKat if genitalia is what determines whether someone is a man or a woman, we’re in bad shape."

    Yes, it amazes me that humanity has been able to survive for thousands of years using that definition.

    "The style guidelines for how trans* people are to be referred to in the media are clear: they are what they say they are. If they say “I am a woman” and want to be referred to by a female name and feminine pronouns, that’s what you do. Period."

    I think I want to be referred to as "Derek Jeter" from now on. Ladies, I have some free time tonight...

  • Kit-Kat

    @Amanda--My point was that you asked a question--what criteria is the WaPo using to refer to Deane as a man becoming a woman? My answer--they appear to be using the standard of whether or not that person has had sex reassignment surgery. The next question--was this criteria established by Deane or someone at the WaPo? For that, you could be a journalist and call either the author or the piece or Ms. Deane yourself to see what they have to say about it.

    So please stop arguing with someone who isn't arguing with you. I never said that was the right or wrong criterion, I just said that's what the Post appears to be using. I don't need the lecture.

  • kza

    "I think I want to be referred to as “Derek Jeter” from now on. Ladies, I have some free time tonight…"

    People are probably going to call you asshole instead of Derek.

  • Emily H.

    Yes, as kza pointed out, I think there's a style guide in existence, & lazy writers just don't bother to use it.

    KitKat -- it's considered insulting and misleading in the trans community to refer to someone who hasn't had bottom surgery as "pre-op." They may not ever be intending to get the surgery (after all, it's major surgery that costs thousands of dollars, and many people are content without it). And even if a person is intending to get it someday, defining their gender status by the one procedure they HAVEN'T had is reductive and misleading. Furthermore, it's my understanding that most trans men don't every get bottom surgery (since it doesn't result in a functional penis). So applying this standard to them would make no sense. And applying it only to trans women is inconsistent and sexist.

    A much more sensible standard of whether someone is medically "done" with a sex change is how far along they are in their hormone regimen, since that's what makes most of the different w/r/t what gender someone is perceived as. Anyway, it appears you're wrong that WaPo is using a surgery-related standard to determine if this woman is really a woman, since they refer to her as "her" and don't make any mention of such a policy. I don't really see the point in defending them.

  • JMS

    DirkJohanson, you are wronger than a wrong thing that is very wrong. People were living gender identities different from the ones they were assigned at birth long before the age of modern medicine.

    How to know someone's gender? ASK THEM. Robyn Deane can answer for herself.

  • Amanda Hess

    @Kit-Kat "So please stop arguing with someone who isn’t arguing with you."

    Same to you! I think you mean to be responding to @Amadi, not to me.

  • Molly Ren

    *makes mental note to track down the AP style guide for future reference* If there really is an official style guide that covers how to talk about someone's gender compassionately, I want a link so I can send it to everyone who screws it up!

  • Amanda Hess

    @Molly Ren: The 2010 GLAAD Media Reference Guide is a comprehensive resource:

    And AP Style says: "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."

  • Kit-Kat

    @Amanda--oops, my bad typo.

  • DirkJohanson

    JMS writes, "How to know someone’s gender? ASK THEM"

    Surely, there are non-humans that feel the same way. Just curious how we should address trans non-humans, since except for a small number of birds, they really can't speak for themselves.

    Like, if I see a dog with a vagina and big nipples lifting its leg to pee, do I stop calling the dog "Jane" and start calling the dog "Jay?" Let me know, so I don't offend anybody (including the dog's human companion).

  • Adrienne

    Yeah, dirk, transphobia is sooo hilarious. Dehumanizing people is comic genius. So original!

    Seriously, though. Get over yourself.

  • Adrienne

    @Emily H

    I know you're addressing the specific question re transitions, but the emphasis on transitions generally (how to tell when someone is "done" with a "sex change") needs to be abandoned by cisgender people (i'm not saying you're cis, I don't know).

    Many trans people have identified as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth for their entire cognisant lives. They may start presenting as their real gender (female, apparently, in the case of the woman in the article) later in life, or may not, and may or may not use hormones or seek surgery. Cis people have a fascination with the "transition" aspect of it, but it's not relevant at all to some trans people. If someone uses female pronouns for herself, that's all you need to know. No past, no future. No process. Just use female pronouns.