Though not the only instance where something of this nature has occurred, recently on Twitter there was an author, a woman who identifies as queer, who chose to explain to people why she felt that as a writer she could take creative liberty with facts about a transgender person’s life. As is expected, I and other people reacted with shock, anger, and dismay. I cannot speak for anyone else outside of myself, however, the chain of events that led up to this cannot be placed solely on the author, though it would be easy to scapegoat that one individual. Since the incident, I’ve taken some time to reflect and cool off a bit, rather than approach the topic with my natural reaction, which is a burning fury that anyone could believe that they have the right to erase our identities.
Dr. James Barry, the aforementioned man in question, whose life will be portrayed in the upcoming title mentioned above, presented as a man, acted as one, chose to be called one, and therefore was one. To suggest that the use of female pronouns after there is evidence of him forgoing that identity, is not only distasteful but downright disrespectful to do so. It appalls me that a publishing company or author felt that this was the right course of action to take when it has been made wholly clear that were he alive today, James Barry would be downright indignant at the slight of being misgendered, regardless of the reason for it.
As for what this means for the transgender community at large, I believe it bespeaks a willingness from a publishing giant to underutilize resources to accurately portray an individual who was, in fact, the opposite of what the author they have contracted claims. That others defend her flagrant disregard in the wake of scrutiny from transgender people is also troublesome at best, and terrifying at worst, because people who would know better than someone who is not trans should be listened to, right? One would think so at least.
This whole event is only one case of many though where a writer portraying a person unlike them has taken the story into their own hands and believed that they know better than the people they write about, despite an innumerable amount of protestations to the contrary. It is disheartening that this book was deemed worthy to be published, given that it grossly misrepresents one person to benefit another group of people, while dismissing the real fears of the group that it should actually be about.
As a writer, it is the duty of each one of us who wields the powers to craft words, however good or bad they are, to do so with a respect for those who we portray. Whether our works be about people like us or those who have a life dissimilar from ours that it would take hours, months, or years, to research to become knowledgeable about, regardless, we should do so with the care that we would wish others who write about us to take, and nothing less.
With that being said, there is a petition/open letter to get Little Brown’s attention, which I will leave linked here. Please, if you have a moment to, consider signing it. Thank you!