Banned Books Week 2017

Banned Books Week 2017 is September 24 through 30, 2017.

Since 2014, I have participated in the Banned Books Week Virtual Readout (which, by the way, can be done anytime — not just during BBW). In 2016, I read from Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out (here’s the recording). In 2015, I read from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (here’s the recording). In 2014, I read from Captain Underpants and the Big, Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy (here’s the recording).

This year, I am reading from I Am Jazz. The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom recorded 323 book challenges in 2016. Of the top ten, this book was number four. The ALA says, “This children’s picture book memoir was challenged and removed because it portrays a transgender child and because of language, sex education, and offensive viewpoints.”

Here’s my readout:

I ordered I Am Jazz on September 7, because I had decided to use it for my read out, but events here in Tallahassee that occurred between the time I placed the order and now brought the topic of how people want to be addressed (i.e., what pronoun is used) front and center.

A local fifth-grade teacher, Chloe Bressack, wrote an introductory message to parents and students in which Chloe requested to be addressed by the pronouns “they,” “them,” and “their,” in addition to “Mx.” (pronounced “mix”).

Two articles appeared in the Tallahassee Democrat about this, one explaining that parents objected to the use of gender neutral pronouns by a teacher and another after the teacher apologized for confusion related to the situation. This story made national and international news.

The Real Issue

The teacher explained in an introductory letter that they prefer the use of gender neutral pronouns when being addressed.

Gender Pronouns

Source: The Tallahassee Democrat via Leon County Schools

Although the teacher did not tell students what to do (the teacher stated that the teacher uses gender neutral pronouns) and said, “We’re not going for perfection, just making an effort!” …. the internet mob had other interpretations.

“Teaching children gender neutrality or gender fluidity or whatever the term is these days amounts to psychological and/or emotional child abuse.” (Tallahassee Democrat comment)

“Sad when you have to deprogram your kids when they come home from a public school.” (Facebook group comment)

“I would try my best to get my kid away from this teacher. Would she fail or demerit those that did not follow her instruction? This is absolutely wrong. Our language does not change at the whim of one teacher.” (Fox News comment thread)

And then there are the teachers in students’ “crouches” (yes, I do advocate upright posture, actually).

Gender Pronouns

The Evolution of Pronouns

Chloe Bressack asked to be addressed with gender-neutral pronouns. I can’t imagine this is the first time in the history of education that a teacher’s form of address has been questioned/criticized.

Bressack is not the first teacher to face criticism for being different from the majority of teachers

The American Federation of Teachers lists adversities teachers have faced over the years:

  • “teachers whose beliefs were being investigated by political committees during the “Red scare” hysteria following WWI.”
  • “female teachers [who] found themselves faced with “contracts which still stipulated that an employed teacher must wear skirts of certain lengths, keep her galoshes buckled, not receive gentleman callers more than three times a week and teach a Sunday School class”

The AFT also took a stand early on in civil rights issues: they moved their 1938 convention venue because the original venue forced black people to ride in the freight elevators.

I have to believe these teachers, in one way or another, faced parents who thought they would not be the ideal teachers for their students … and said so (although without the fuel of social media).

What must the 70s have been like?

I was a public school student (roughly 2nd grade through 9th) in the 70s but I don’t recall any kerfuffle over teachers wanting to be called “Ms.” instead of “Mrs.” or “Miss,” but this seems like another one of those types of situations that could have created consternation.

“Ms.” was officially approved by the Government Accounting Office in 1972 but actually first appeared almost 70 years prior, in 1901. Change does, indeed, take time.

About the singular “they” and other gender neutral pronouns

Many of the comments about the Bressack situation were some iteration or another of “it isn’t even correct grammar to address an individual person as ‘they'”! I made several comments as recently as five days ago that, as a grammar “purist,” it was hard for me to stomach such an awkward construction, but a little research prompted me to reframe.

While Merriam-Webster hasn’t qualified “the singular they” as an entry yet, they did say this when describing it as a “word to watch”:

There have always been people who didn’t conform to an expected gender expression, or who seemed to be neither male nor female. But we’ve struggled to find the right language to describe these people—and in particular, the right pronouns. In the 17th century, English laws concerning inheritance sometimes referred to people who didn’t fit a gender binary using the pronoun it, which, while

dehumanizing, was conceived of as being the most grammatically fit answer to gendered pronouns around then. Adopting the already-singular they is vastly preferable. It’s not quite as newfangled as it seems: we have evidence in our files of the nonbinary they dating back to 1950, and it’s likely that there are earlier uses of the nonbinary pronoun they out there.

“Mx.” was one of the “Words That Explain 2015” as chosen by Vox. Vox noted that the Oxford English Dictionary added it as an official word that year.

Also in 2015, The American Dialect Society defined “the singular they” as its word of the year, noting “While many novel gender-neutral pronouns have been proposed, they has the advantage of already being part of the language.”

Enough about language lessons, what about our kids?

I really can’t overstate how much this situation has weighed on my heart and mind this week. I wrote about it on September 21, when the Five Minute Friday prompt was “accept.”

I wrote about how appalled I am that the responses to Bressack’s choice are so hateful and ugly. One thing I wrote, though, is slightly misrepresentative of how I actually feel, but in the spirit of Five Minute Friday, I did not edit it. It is this passage:

“…I am frightened of a world where people, frankly, show such un-Christian behavior toward an educator, a fellow human being, a person who reiterated that they intend to address students by their chosen pronouns (I am sure at that school that means 100% “he” and “she”).”

It was inaccurate for me to assume, since the school is relatively high in socioeconomic standards, that “100% of the kids there prefer ‘he’ and ‘she’.” Life experience has taught me that even among fifth graders, typically 9 and 10 years old, their chosen pronouns may not be so rigidly defined, especially in their own psyches.

Childhood is hard enough, but the challenges grow for transgender children, who have “a gender identity or gender expression that differs from their assigned sex” (definition: Wikipedia).

According to Science News:

Nearly half (46.5 percent) of young transgender adults have attempted suicide at some point in their lives, a recent survey of over 2,000 people found. Nearly half. For comparison, the attempted suicide rate among the general U.S. population is estimated to be about 4.6 percent.

What’s more, a 2015 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that transgender youth are two to three times as likely as their peers to suffer from depression and anxiety disorders, or to attempt suicide or harm themselves. 

Although many commenters have said “9 or 10 years old” is too young to have to deal with gender pronouns that depart from traditional masculine and feminine references, the more I learn, the more I realize that people who are transgender or non-gender conforming start coming to terms with it as they begin to develop their gender identities (and deal with societal gender expectations) … which is far earlier than nine in many cases.

I think of my friends who face critical reactions when they give their little boys the princess parties they want. I think of my friend who, when he came out as gay in a small town where he taught art, had numerous students express gratitude that there was someone else who was publicly out.

And, of course, I think of all the legislative activity this year around who can go to the bathroom where.

My Wish For Mx. Bressack’s School Year

I hope Mx. Bressack and the fifth graders in their class have an incredible school year. And I hope there aren’t any parents (or any people among the multitudes who have seen their introductory letter) who are offended by giraffes (noted by Mx. Bressack as a favorite), who have been known to stick their necks out for what they need..

Mx. Bressack already stuck their neck out for something that matters.

(Editor’s Note 9/26/17 Mx. Bressack was, according to the Tallahassee Democrat, transferred to the Adult Education department, which is housed at a different campus. This is Superintendent Hanna’s statement:

“This afternoon I had an open conversation with Teacher Bressack. Given the complexity of the issue, we both agreed a different environment would be best for Teacher Bressack’s educational career and for the young students at Canopy Oaks,” Superintendent Rocky Hanna said in a statement.

I supported Superintendent Hanna in the recent election, I consider him a friend (and still will), but I am tremendously disappointed in this decision, and whatever extent our School Board failed to support this educator.)

Here is the article: Gender-neutral teacher being transferred to adult ed after pronoun controversy

Gender Pronouns

8 New Words In an Evolving Language

(This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive compensation.)

I love language. I can’t remember a time when I was not an avid reader, and I’ve always enjoyed wordplay.

I can be a stickler about many things English-language related (hello, beloved Oxford comma), but I recognize that the English language is a living, breathing entity, not a static one. Social media has, to me, put the evolution of English on hyperdrive.

I think of all of the words consigned to word graveyard because a hashtag takes their place. For example, in this tweet…

…an “I” and an “am” and a “so” all remained home in the word farm stable, unused, because a hashtag did all the heavy lifting for a passage which would have otherwise read “After an intense homework session, finally going to bed. I am so tired.” (I do this frequently too, I just couldn’t find an example when writing this post, so thanks @stinger444 for the perfect example.)

New Words in an Evolving Language

The way our language usage has changed due to Twitter and other forms of social media is a topic for a whole post of its own. What I want to talk about today is new words which I have come across in the last year that made me go, “HUH….”

In some cases, they are words that are a bit ingenious in representing a particular concept. In others, they (to me) signal either a new humanitarian sensitivity or, in some cases, a walking on eggshells nod to political correctness.

Prior to writing this post, I looked up “how a word gets into the dictionary” which has a great infographic detailing the routes words take to being “official.” For each word, I’ll let you know if it’s in the dictionary yet and I’ll share a few thoughts on the word. They’re not presented in any particular order. I just added them to a draft post as I ran across them.

Previvor

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary? NO

I don’t recall where I first read this word, but I think it may have been in reference to Angelina Jolie in an article like this one from the Washington Post.

previvor is the survivor of a predisposition to cancer who has not had the disease, such as a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation or other genes related to Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer (HBOC).

This is one of those words I want to be aware of. If someone uses it in a face-to-face conversation, I will be more prepared to understand the fears/emotions/challenges inherent in the fact that they are a previvor. Likewise, if someone uses it on social media, I won’t have to ask “what’s that?” and can respond in an informed and empathetic way.

If you are a previvor, this site, FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered), may be of support.

Latinx

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary? NO

I don’t recall where I first read this word either, but for quite some time I thought it was an unusual typo and I could NOT figure out how to pronounce it. It’s not a typo. (Thanks, Complex, for cluing me in.)

According to Complex (linked above), Latinx is pronounced “La-TEEN-ex” and is a “gender-inclusive way of referring to people of Latin American descent.” In addition, “used by activists and some academics, the term is gaining traction among the general public, after having been featured in publications such as NPR to Latina.”

(By the way, the author of the Complex piece on Latinx, @yesipadilla, refers to herself as “Xicanx” so I think I see a trend!).

I’m glad I now know that Latinx is not a typo. I know that if someone uses it, they are explaining something important to them about their identity and how they want to be seen in the world. It’s one of those words that reminds us not to make assumptions.

It’s not like I have any authority to recommend a great site for the Latinx community, but since my work related to the CDC’s efforts around HIV Awareness is so important to me, I’ll highlight one of the first places I heard about the term Latinx: National Latinx AIDS Awareness Day (October 15). If you can recommend a general resource for those who identify as Latinx, I’d love to know about it.

Cisgender

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary? YES

The first place I really recall hearing this word frequently was at the We Won’t Wait 2016 conference in September, which had several sessions related to issues facing the transgender and LGBTQIA+ communities. Then I read Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, a book which used this term, and decided I really needed to figure out what the reference meant.

According to Merriam-Webster, cisgender means of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity corresponds with the sex the person had or was identified as having at birth. For examples of how it is used, read the full definition here.

I have to be honest. The word “cisgender” sits funny on my ears. BUT I can see why it is useful, as part of the current dialogue about gender identity. There was a teen highlighted in Beyond Magenta who was a boy transitioning to a girl who went to an all-boys school. It sort of made me wonder about the world I’ve always known, which so tidily segregated boys from girls. Boys’ schools, girls’ schools, boys’ teams, girls’ teams. Things are changing. People who find themselves somewhere in the middle ground between “I 100% identify as male” and “I 100% identify as female” have a language to more accurately reflect the fact that they are on a journey whose terminology does not provide definition at times. Another area where I can converse in a more informed way now that I know.

To learn more about how to have a dialogue about gender identity, this is a helpful resource. It’s directed at teens but if you’re like me, your knowledge about gender issues may NOT correlate with your chronological age. We all need to start somewhere.

Cultural Appropriation

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary? NO

The first place I recall hearing this phrase was in a post about a Disney-themed costume. I believe it was an article like this one about a Moana costume. The term “cultural appropriation” has continued to assert itself in the content I read. I don’t recall if the exact term was used, but if not the concept itself was covered in Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving.

In About News, Susan Scafidi defines Cultural Appropriation as “Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc. It’s most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, e.g. sacred objects.”

I struggle with this one (but I do, for starters, understand it and believe awareness is key). If you know me at all, you know I am a proud double alum of Florida State University. Since I became a freshman in 1982 through now, I have seen changes: Lady Scalphunters are now Lady Spirithunters, for example. I realize it was disingenuous to parrot back what I was always told: “well the Seminole nation is okay with it.” But rightly or wrongly I still embrace Seminole fan paraphernalia and …… well, it’s a work in progress.

This resource I found about cultural appropriation was the best kind of resource: it involves your mind while engaging you in an activity beyond reading. I present: Cultural Appropriation Bingo from Dr. Sheila Addison.

Phygital

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary? NO

I learned the term Phygital from a Spin Sucks blog post, Four Phygital Marketing Ideas to Grow Your Business, by @openagentoz.

Phygital customer expects a brand to combine the physical and the digital for a best-of-both-worlds experience

Honestly, after Cultural Appropriation, I’m just happy to have a word that isn’t laden with challenge to discuss (but hold on to your physical hats and enjoy this section because Othering is coming up next).

Knowing the word Phygital makes me feel up to date on marketing trends. I personally *love* being a consumer contributor of Social Snaps, such as this Fitbit/Giant Microbes/Shot at Life Instagram post.

Evolving Language

For more about all things “phygital,” transport yourself way back to 2012 and read this.

Othering

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary? NO

There are No Others defines Othering as “any action by which an individual or group becomes mentally classified in somebody’s mind as “not one of us.” Rather than always remembering that every person is a complex bundle of emotions, ideas, motivations, reflexes, priorities, and many other subtle aspects, it’s sometimes easier to dismiss them as being in some way less human, and less worthy of respect and dignity, than we are.”

This is another term that is new to me. I think it was in Waking Up White (linked above), but I read the audio and can’t easily look it back up. Regardless, I’m hearing it often and my consciousness is raised. This is somewhat tied into the compulsion to “help” that I grew up with. I *think* my support of Unbound is sensitive to “othering” but how many times have I written about “those in poverty” and really done so in a way that respects each individual’s worth?

There are some good resources for learning about “othering” here.

Carefrontation

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary? NO

I first heard this term used by Dan Negroni, author of Chasing Relevance. Although I can’t find that reference anymore (why on earth didn’t I  hang on to the link then?!, a twitter search turns up lots of instances).

As defined on Oprah.comCarefrontation is “putting our heads together to reach a common goal.” Read the complete post here.

I know I avoid confrontation, and by doing so lose out on opportunities to have peace of mind and to actually get things I want. Maybe there’s something to be said for, as the Oprah.com article recommends, implementing a three-point plan of preparing with care, offering an invitation to talk, and practicing no-blame talking and listening.

Where to find more about Carefrontations? I could link to this but then I would have to add “choice points” to my list and I feel like I’m at capacity right now. 😉 Here’s a post about it from Great Leadership that’s a good read.

Fungineering 

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary? NO

I first heard this term used in this New York Times book review of Why Are Americans So Anxious? related to Zappo’s.

Fungineering at Zappo’s is defined in this article as “a kind of events-planning pep squad.”

I just like “fungineering” because it’s a neat word mashup and portrays some of the out-of-the-box ways organizations can bring humor and joy to the workplace. However, I was alarmed at the reference in the book review to how the author seeks input from Zappo’s happiness evangelist Tony Hsieh: “Whippman has a weird email exchange with Hsieh in which he uses lots of exclamation points and refers to the ‘holacracy’ and ‘brand aura’ (she doesn’t know and neither do I). But he declines to meet with her because he doesn’t prioritize people he feels ‘drained by after I interact with them,’ he writes.”

Where to find more about fungineering? I’m guessing you might not want to contact Tony Hsieh directly but if you’re in College Station, TX, this may be an option to explore.

WHAT NEW WORD WOULD YOU ADD TO THIS LIST? 

Evolving Language