Vocabulary guidelines are subject to change

So there’s a case on the Charley Project where I talk some about the missing person’s brother (what particular case it is, isn’t important), and what he saw and heard on the day of the disappearance and in the days prior. He was a child at the time. I talk enough in the casefile about the brother that I had to refer to him by name. Let’s say I called him “Mark.”

Now, close to 20 years have passed since the MP vanished and someone is on trial for his murder. When I write about the trial in the casefile (I will update the case when the trial’s finished) I will have to talk about Mark and what Mark said, because Mark is a major witness at the trial. But Mark is now “Mary”, the MP’s transgender sister.

I really was not sure how to address this in the casefile so that I would not cause offense to anybody. Obviously, it will need to be pointed out in the casefile that Mark and Mary are the same person, and when accounts from years ago talk about the MP’s brother Mark, they mean the person who testified at the trial as his sister Mary.

But society is still learning how to talk about transgender people and I do not want to put the information out in the wrong way, with language that causes offense. I don’t want to unnecessarily upset anyone in what is already a very upsetting case.

(To give you an example of what I’m talking about: once I was on Reddit talking about some black people who had moved from another country to the US to live, and I called them “African-American”. By which I meant ”black”. I thought I was being polite to use this term, but my comment was downvoted to oblivion and I was yelled at by several other commenters and couldn’t figure out why. I asked a friend who is black what I did wrong, and she said black immigrants to the United States usually don’t want to be called African-Americans. I had not known this and thus, had caused offense. I grew up in Wonderbread-white land surrounded by Wonderbread-white people and believe I am very ignorant as to racial issues, though I am trying to learn.)

I wound up consulting a friend of mine, who is the mother of a transgender child. She, in turn, consulted her child, who said this: the first time I mention the MP’s sibling in the case summary, I should identify the person as the MP’s sister Mary, and include a note saying Mary is transgender and accounts from the time period her brother disappeared refer to her as the MP’s brother Mark. The trans position, my informant said, is that Mary was ALWAYS a girl, it’s just she happened to be mistaken for a boy.

Anyway, I decided to write this entry to (A) show people what I sometimes consider when writing casefiles and (B) educate people about how to talk about transgender individuals.