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Interesting profile of a unique person who somehow negotiated a life that fitted them in this world.
January 9, 2011 10:25 AM   Subscribe

Transgender lawyer killed under tube train in London last year bravely created her own life.
posted by maiamaia (37 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Many of Sonia's friends found the media interest difficult to stomach, especially because some newspapers used the male pronoun to refer to Burgess in spite of the fact that he had chosen to live as a woman.

I, um....
posted by mudpuppie at 10:30 AM on January 9, 2011 [12 favorites]


Mudpuppie, keep reading. I think the writer uses the male and female pronouns to try to distinguish between Sonia's two identities. I didn't like it, but on balance it worked better--and was less thoughtless--than it seemed on my initial read.
posted by liketitanic at 10:33 AM on January 9, 2011


I was thinking the same thing, mudpuppie. Oy.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:33 AM on January 9, 2011


She does switch back and forth between pronouns when referring to the distinct portions of Burgess's life, but at that point she was referring to reactions to media coverage by Sonia's friends, not David's. Maybe it's just a copy editing error, but to me it came off as a little insensitive.

Anyhow, what an interesting story. Living a life that complex would drive me bonkers. I'm glad that there are people who can do it and find happiness in the process.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:40 AM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it made me bristle, too, but I felt better about it on balance, especially because the writer's attempt seemed pretty unusual for mainstream press. I was about to post it myself so was glad to see it--especially because Sonia did find happiness. Mainstream media doesn't often pick up those kinds of stories about transgendered folks, ones that aren't about how their suffering drove them to the end of their lives.
posted by liketitanic at 10:43 AM on January 9, 2011


If the pronoun is what stands out about this extraordinary story, you've got a problem.
For my part, the "bravely created own life" framing seems kind of off. Not important though, just read the article.
posted by Chuckles at 10:56 AM on January 9, 2011


I don't think it's a copyediting error; I wondered about it, too, but at that point I think the author is being precise. It was he who chose to live as a woman, not she; and therefore technically thenceforth he became she. And the careful and sensitive way the author differentiates these two parts of Burgess's character makes me suspect that here she's making a point about it - that the "he" is actually also a "she" - rather than being clueless or insensitive.

In any case, what a superb and well-written tribute. This made me happy, actually; I know it's in the midst of tragedy (as so much else these days) but knowing there are such people that I've been priviledged enough to share the earth with brings me some joy.
posted by koeselitz at 11:03 AM on January 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


Wow, what a fascinating and moving story.
posted by ob at 11:20 AM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


In a world where transgender people struggle for the recognition that their existence as human beings is legitimate, and pronoun use is one of the battlefields this struggle is fought in, I think pronoun scrutiny is perfectly appropriate.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:24 AM on January 9, 2011 [10 favorites]


It was he who chose to live as a woman, not she; and therefore technically thenceforth he became she.

Good point.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:34 AM on January 9, 2011


Nice tribute to a pretty complicated person.

As far as the pronoun thing, given the way this person split their time, I would say

Glasses- Clark Kent
Cape - Superman
posted by timsteil at 11:55 AM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the examining the writer's pronoun choice rewards scrutiny because it seems to me that Day to some trouble to develop a form of reference that was consistent, respectful and clear. When the antecedent is "Sonia Burgess" or a female gendered noun the pronouns are feminine, and masculine pronouns are used when the antecedent is "David Burgess." There seem to be few examples where the antecedent of a pronoun were not one or the other, which I think must be the result of careful effort by the author. Given that the journalist is quoting individuals who use one or the other gender when referring to Burgess, the format allows various people who loved Burgess to discuss their friend in the language that makes sense to them. I'm not sure it's a perfect solution, but it does strike me as one that is the result of careful thought and a sincere desire to respect the life of an extraordinary individual.
posted by layceepee at 12:12 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Regardless of pronouns, the case record Burgess accumulated over the years is amazing. What a loss to the profession and to those clients (paid and pro bono) who might have benefitted further from Burgess' skills as lawyer.
posted by immlass at 12:19 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Really: an interesting person is dead that bravely created a new life, and the topic under discussion by friends and this thread is a pronoun in a newspaper?

S/heeeesh. Way to focus.
posted by Twang at 12:54 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Really: an interesting person is dead that bravely created a new life, and the topic under discussion by friends and this thread is a pronoun in a newspaper?

You must be new here.
posted by unSane at 1:01 PM on January 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


Fascinating story and I thought very sensitively written. Given that the deceased lived as both a man and a woman, switching between roles openly, I think it's fair to use both pronouns. It was certainly done carefully and deliberately.

I like it when people don't fit into neat categories. I like it even better when someone writes about such a person and resists the urge to stick them in a single box. People are complicated. Gender identity is complicated. Avoid reductionism.
posted by Nelson at 1:26 PM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wow, what a life. Who needs fiction when real people create such complex selves?

S/he seemed like a pretty amazing and unique and generous person on balance. How human.

.
posted by spitbull at 1:44 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's a well-written piece about a very good person. You're all supremely sensitive and going to heaven or whatever it is you want for wringing your hands over the typo, but enough.

I'm glad you've never had to pause to think about your gender presentation or ask anyone to use a different pronoun to address you than the one they assume is correct. That is a great privilege that not everyone has.
posted by liketitanic at 3:39 PM on January 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


In a world where transgender people struggle for the recognition that their existence as human beings is legitimate, and pronoun use is one of the battlefields this struggle is fought in, I think pronoun scrutiny is perfectly appropriate.

Before reading the article, I'd have agreed. Having read it, I don't really think that's true. This particular person did not have such a struggle over pronoun usage, and in fact chose to live as both David and Sonia. I think the point that sentence was trying to make was just about the importance of the female identity, but not necessarily at the expense of recognizing the life lived as a male. Switching back and forth seems appropriate enough considering the circumstances.

This article was really moving, and the portrait of David/Sonia was inspiring. What an impressive life, and how terrible that it ended the way it did.

.
posted by mdn at 3:44 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


"His three children stood up to deliver a eulogy about the father they had known, slipping easily between female and male pronouns as they talked."

Seconding, wow. Fascinating story, but what of the murder motive?

On a side note, or sort of side, my eye doctor growing up was Richard Raskind. I was twelve or so when I went to him complaining about my vision, wanting glasses (kind of because my best friend had just got some) saying that my brother always beat me at ping-pong when I was just a fraction of an inch off the table. He peered into my eyes with his instruments and at such close range I noticed his tweezed eyebrows. I was very puzzled.

"Your vision is more than perfect in your right eye and just slightly off on the left. You don't need glasses, but I'll give you a prescription if you want," he said to me. "The truth, I suspect, is that you are something of a perfectionist and you will have to work that out in other ways as you go on."

I was not used to being seen into so clearly by adults. On the way home I mentioned to my mother that the doctor's eyebrows looked strange; she, having been seen by him just before me, agreed. We didn't speculate. We just shrugged and said agreed how much we liked him.

Three years later I was away and my mom sent me the clippings about his metamorphosis into tennis star Renee Richards. I was fifteen and this was my first direct exposure to transgender anything. What I remember most is my parents' casting no judgements, except their regret that he had been such a wonderful doctor we and all his other patients would surely miss him, and that they hoped she could find happiness and fair treatment pursuing her passion for tennis.

(Did I get my pronouns right, pals?)
posted by emhutchinson at 4:26 PM on January 9, 2011 [13 favorites]


And

.
posted by emhutchinson at 4:27 PM on January 9, 2011


what a moving story.
posted by puckish at 4:32 PM on January 9, 2011


[Mayor Curley, you must remember where MetaTalk is, I suggest you go there rather than do whatever it is you are doing in this thread.]
posted by jessamyn at 5:20 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


What an amazing woman, who did amazing things, and changed this world for the better.

The article does twist itself around a bit with pronouns, and I wouldn't have written it that way myself, but given that she was still in transition -- as much as we can know her real plans for herself -- the pronoun flipping is understandable. We do so confuse cis people sometimes.
As he sat in the pews casting his eye over the congregation, it struck Ian Baker as ironic that his friend would have been "utterly and acutely embarrassed by it all. He could never have imagined that so many people felt that way about him."
.

Rest in peace.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 5:55 PM on January 9, 2011


Third non-obscene comment deleted? Jesus Christ. Is there some sort of samizdat I can get published in without going to Metatalk and turning myself into Giles Corey?

That's two very disparate but very literate references in one post. Can this stand, please? I'm criticizing the constituent assembly, but not the politburo, I swear.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:07 PM on January 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


Really: an interesting person is dead that bravely created a new life, and the topic under discussion by friends and this thread is a pronoun in a newspaper?

News organisations, in print and on screen, have a bit of a history with misgendering trans people. It's insulting, it's offensive, it's triggering (consider that for a trans woman being referred to as male by someone who knows damn well what they're saying is on the same spectrum as words like "faggot" for gay men, and indeed trans women too; to be publicly, aggressively misgendered can be terrifying), it portrays a trans person's gender as not as real as a cis person's, and their life deceptive, and it contributes to an atmosphere where trans women's deaths are repeatedly depicted, like cis women who are raped, as somehow their own fault.

I don't think this article was offensive, but people's comments aren't just appearing out of nowhere. This isn't a quibble over grammar choice or the New Yorker's fucking umlaut; pronoun choice in articles about trans people matters.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 6:34 PM on January 9, 2011 [12 favorites]


After Renee Richards left professional tennis, she became an eye doctor again. She took over the practice of a doctor in New York City after he died.

Dr. Richards as a very good doctor as a woman too.
posted by Marygwen at 7:56 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


pronoun choice in articles about trans people matters

Absolutely. And this article was incredibly careful, liberally mixing both male and female descriptors for David/Sonia in a nuanced, context-sensitive way. My impression from the article was that Burgess lived live both as a man and a woman and the article reflects that. We literally don't have language to describe someone with two genders, I admire the Guardian for making it work as well as they did.

You don't write stuff like this by accident:
the complicated story of the loving father, brilliant colleague, sensitive woman and courageous person they knew
posted by Nelson at 8:34 PM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson
To the pronoun-hunters - was the article tl;dr? All I'm reading about is a soaring tribute to the finest lawyer that ever lived.
posted by asymptotic at 11:52 PM on January 9, 2011


.
posted by asymptotic at 11:53 PM on January 9, 2011


You must be new here.
posted by unSane


I think if you just do the ole hover over on both your names and check the user numbers, you might find that untrue.
posted by timsteil at 7:49 AM on January 10, 2011


I remember the tweets about this back when it happened, never for once would I imagine such a story. My eyes are watery.

.
posted by TrinsicWS at 9:02 AM on January 10, 2011


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posted by Theta States at 9:49 AM on January 10, 2011


.

Beautiful human.
posted by Mike Mongo at 7:05 PM on January 10, 2011


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posted by une_heure_pleine at 4:19 AM on January 11, 2011


The Observer's readers' editor has put up a response to some of the comment they have received.

I was surprised they had to no entry on transgender issues in their style guide.
posted by Z303 at 9:44 AM on January 25, 2011


Thanks for the link, Z303.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 10:07 AM on January 25, 2011


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