Xtra found itself at the centre of a controversy when assignment editor Danny Glenwright posted the birth name of a trans person on his Facebook wall when linking to a story about her on xtra.ca on Dec 12.
The trans woman, Lexi Tronic, says she was offended by the reference to her birth name. Several trans activists called Glenwright’s Facebook post “transphobic” and on Dec 13 called for a boycott of Xtra until the paper apologized for it. They called off the boycott the next day, after Glenwright apologized to Tronic personally.
Glenwright later published an opinion piece on xtra.ca’s Roundup blog, in which he provided some background to the story and criticized the boycott call. That column has quickly become the most-read story on xtra.ca and sparked more than 100 comments on the site.
Tronic and Glenwright were classmates in Winnipeg, where they grew up together, and have known each other for 24 years, Glenwright says. Glenwright says he was surprised when Tronic became the subject of Xtra reporter Andrea Houston’s recent feature on sex workers. Tronic was profiled in that story as a transgender and sex workers' rights activist.
Glenwright says he wanted to show their mutual friends in Winnipeg how far Tronic has come and posted a link to the story on his Facebook wall, using her birth first name so they would recognize her.
“Another strange and wonderful ‘small world’ type connection. I have known Lexi (born ****) since Grade 4 and attended my first rave at 14 with her,” he wrote. [We have removed Tronic’s previous first name from this story.]
Some trans people feel that referring to a trans person’s birth-assigned gender or name without that person’s explicit consent can be hurtful or offensive, in that they feel it invalidates their transition. If they’re not out, it may also breach their privacy or expose them to danger.
Although Glenwright did not use Tronic’s birth surname and she is out to her friends and family and widely known in Winnipeg – she was once the subject of a feature in Xtra in which she gave the author permission to use her full original name and she links to the story from her personal website (satanictrannyslut.com), and she appeared in the internationally syndicated television show Kink – Tronic says she felt wronged that Glenwright used her name in a public forum without obtaining her explicit permission. [NOTE: Tronic removed the link from her website shortly after this story was published.]
Glenwright has since apologized to Tronic for offending her and removed the post from his Facebook wall. Tronic has refused to comment for this story.
This isn’t the first time Xtra has been criticized by members of the trans community. Earlier this year, Xtra published a story about trans artist Elisha Lim, in which instead of using Lim’s chosen pronoun, the singular “they,” Xtra simply referred to Lim by Lim’s name. Some commenters called that decision transphobic.
While acknowledging the inherent problem in English that there is no gender-neutral singular personal pronoun, Xtra considers singular “they” to be confusing for readers.
In the wake of the current controversy, some commenters have questioned Xtra’s commitment to trans issues.
While Xtra bills itself as “Canada’s gay and lesbian news,” the mission statement of Xtra’s parent company, Pink Triangle Press, reads, “'We have chosen as our public lesbians and gay men, but we bear in mind all those who challenge gender or bend the borders of desire.”
Xtra strives to accommodate bisexual, trans, queer, two-spirited and queer allies under that rubric in its reporting, says Xtra publisher Brandon Matheson.
“Even though our prime focus is gays and lesbians, we have a lot of people who are trans gay and lesbian people who still are quite active and follow what Xtra does, and the content would be of interest to them,” he says. “Xtra has covered lots of trans-focused material. But the news that is of interest to that community is often of interest to the gay and lesbian community where a lot of our struggles and our interests intersect.”
Moving forward, Xtra hopes to continue dialogue both within the trans community and to the wider community. The next issue of Xtra's Toronto edition will contain a guest editorial by out trans woman Tera Mallette, PTP’s quality assurance analyst.
In January, Xtra will launch a series of roundtable discussions about trans issues, in an effort to educate and inform writers and readers about trans issues in the media and the queer communities. Xtra will announce more details about the event as they become available.
Follow Rob Salerno on Twitter @robsalerno.