On Aug. 30, just 10 days after being shot during a home invasion, Nakhia Williams died. I didn’t learn about this until last Saturday, when I ran into a friend at a potluck. (I brought watermelon. I hate watermelon. I don’t know what she brought.)
Neither of us had known Nakhia; my friend only knew of her death through rumors that the reporting of it reeked of bigotry.
“But,” she said, “when I looked for it on the Internet, I found nothing.”
“Weird,” I said, completely distracted by the cupcakes at the other end of the table.
Because I do nothing but answer phones at work (a “task” my father kindly pays me for while I look for another job), I’ve finally had plenty of time to catch up on the lives of all the people I stalk on MySpace and Facebook, and to upload the many pictures I’ve taken of myself. Needless to say, the fact that I had something legit to Google was awesome.
The following are excerpts from the letters I composed in my head to both WDRB-TV and WLKY-TV after reading their accounts of Nakhia’s death:
WLKY, the headline for your story is a shiny jewel that caught my eye: “Woman dies after shooting; Victim was in middle of sex change procedure.”
A pause for your genius — I mean, who wouldn’t want to read about a shooting that occurred in the middle of a sex change? Did the killer pose as a doctor? Was it during visiting hours?
WDRB, your headline is a total buzz kill: “Man dies from gunshot wound after home invasion.” Do over. Is this even the same story? I thought it was a woman, in the hospital, under the surgeon’s knife. Lame. The only thing you’ve got over WLKY is pronoun-to-noun consistency (WLKY identifies the victim as a woman in the headline, and a man in the first sentence). Kudos.
But I’m onto you, WLKY.
I know you’re not so shoddy as to make such a mistake; call me a conspiracy nut, but I think you just might have a black belt in the art of “political statement that looks like a mistake.” Woman in the headline and man in the first sentence is a genius way to further the negative attitudes surrounding transgender people, and validate bigoted assumptions by complication. If a news source can’t figure it out, those people must be crazy.
Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe you’ve simply mastered how to make a political statement by completely disregarding style rules — it’s a tough call. The Associated Press Stylebook says that when referring to someone’s gender, writers should identify the person however the subject chooses. Nakhia obviously didn’t consider herself both male and female. Whoever wrote and edited the article either didn’t care (due to bigotry), or made a simple mistake (due to bigotry).
Seriously, WLKY, since this incident was (weirdly) not considered a hate crime, there is absolutely no reason to point out the victim was in the middle of a sex change. Nowhere in your story is there any mention of a hate crime (which would be the only reason to write that sentence).
Don’t think your knowledge of grammar lets you off the hook, WDRB. You’re a sly devil too, hiding your AP Style “mistake” behind the guise of a basic headline. Mistakes in print are political, whether intended or not. Just imagine the storm you’d cause if you referred to the president as a girl.
WDRB, your article reports that the coroner said the victim was in the middle of a “gender change.” I realize that coroners work with dead people and all, but that’s not really an excuse. If the coroner really did say “gender change,” then I would think the writer of this piece might want to point out that the slang term he was trying to use is “sex change” (which the actual medical community refers to as “sexual reassignment surgery”). I am sure the author would also point out the difference between sex and gender: Female is a term for sex, woman is the term for gender. I can be a man without having had surgery.
I stopped composing the letters in my head at this point because I couldn’t think of a tidy ending. I narrowed the salutation: Sincerely and LYLAS (Love Ya Like a Sister).
Yep, I’m Gay will run every other week in LEO Weekly.