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Problematic New York Times Column Advises When to Out a Transgender Person

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By GLAAD |
July 12, 2010

In this weekend's edition of The Ethicist, a popular New York Times Magazine advice column, author Randy Cohen advises   "When to Out a Transgendered Dater?" The title itself is offensive and uses incorrect terminology. A quick glance at GLAAD's  Media Reference Guide or the New York Times Style Guide should have informed Cohen that the appropriate term is transgender, as transgender is an adjective, not a verb.

Moreover, the substance of the column, which makes analogies between being transgender and having a disease or committing adultery,  is insulting. While Cohen draws the line at giving the reader permission to out a trans person to his or her whole community, he does insist:

"Even before a first kiss, this person should have told you those things that you would regard as germane to this phase of your evolving relationship, including his being transgendered[sic]. Clearly he thought you’d find it pertinent; that’s why he discreditably withheld it, lest you reject him."

This advice is extremely short sighted and irresponsible, given the prevalence of violent and frequently lethal crimes committed against transgender people, much of it intimate partner violence. Cohen fails to acknowledge this and perpetuates the malicious stereotype of transgender people as deceivers. Dr. Jillian T. Weiss, in her critique of the column for The Bilerico Project, writes:

"This is dangerous nonsense. Hundreds of transgender people are murdered every year, and more subjected to violence, many from partners and potential partners. What is morally wrong and reprehensible is lending the credence of The New York Times to this idea."

Weiss also states:

"Mr. Cohen apparently fails to appreciates that hundreds of transgender people are killed every year because of their transgender status. Their murderers often rely on the "panic" defense. The list is long, and the Transgender Day of Remembrance, held every year on November 20, commemorates those deaths."

GLAAD is currently reaching out to Mr. Cohen and the New York Times. We will update you as information becomes available. We also urge you to contact Randy Cohen ethicist@nytimes.com and/or write a letter to the editor at  letters@nytimes.com to let Randy Cohen and the New York Times know that propagating stereotypes and reinforcing trans panic is unacceptable.

h/t to The Bilerico Project for breaking the story.

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