The Teresa Jusino Experience

Create Like An Activist

The Gender Blender: An Open Letter to Joss Whedon (and Anyone Else Who Cares About Being a Better Ally)

Dear Joss,

My name is Teresa. I’m a Latina, heterosexual, cis woman. I’m a writer, and when I think about writers whose careers I’d like to emulate, I often think about you. I’m a huge geek, and your shows and comics are among my favorite stories in the world. I wrote an essay in the book Whedonistas: A Celebration of the Worlds of Joss Whedon By the Women Who Love Them called “Why Joss Is More Important Than His ‘Verse,” where I not only tell my geek “coming-out” story (coming out as a geek, I mean), but I assert that your importance as a storyteller has less to do with the actual stories and more to do with your activism as a person. I cite your Equality Now speech. I cite activism taken on by Browncoats all over the world who were inspired by you and your work to make the world a better place. I make the case that as good a writer as you are, you’re a better human being, and that’s the reason why your presence in Hollywood is important.

This is why I was so disappointed when I was alerted to this blog post, which talks about a sarcastic comment you made on Twitter in response to a fan question:

I get that you were making a joke. I get that you weren’t even thinking about transgender people when you made this off-the-cuff comment…

And that’s kind of the problem. That it didn’t even cross your mind. And it really should. Because if you consider yourself an “LGBT” ally, you have to remember that the “T” stands for something, and deserves as much respect and consideration and care as all those other letters.

But even that is OK. Listen, even the most well-intentioned people screw up from time to time, or something inconsiderate slips out of their mouth that may or may not hurt someone’s feelings. It happens. Lord knows it happens to me! My problem isn’t with the original tweet. My problem is with what came after.

After several tweets calling you to task for that comment, your response was this:

So…a bunch of trans* fans reach out to you, upset because they feel slighted by you, and your response is basically “You guys, I was clearly not being serious, and if you don’t believe that, you’re free to unfollow me.”

REALLY?! Yup, that’s what I had a problem with. Because you should know better. and as I tweeted in response to you:

I know that you have a track record of feminism. I know that you want to be an LGBT ally. And that’s so important, and when you do it, you do it well. The thing is, being an ally means being a continual work in progress. It’s not something that’s ever “finished.” You can’t just call yourself a feminist and be done. You can’t just call yourself an LGBT ally and be done. It means being open to criticism and learning from it. It means acknowledging how privileged you are every single day, and knowing that despite your best intentions, sometimes you’ll say the wrong thing. Β It’s fucking work.

And when you say something insensitive, and a member of a marginalized minority says “Hey, what you said kinda insulted my entire group,” the only acceptable response is, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. I won’t let it happen again.” OR, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize what I said was offensive. Please tell me why so that I understand and don’t do it again.” The correct answer is never “I can’t believe you didn’t get I was sarcastic.” Once you start defending your sarcasm when other people are telling you they’re legitimately offended, you’re not acting like an ally anymore.

And when you think about it, what are you actually defending when you get defensive about something like that? Free speech? Your right to be insulting without consequence? Is that a right you really want to fight for? (And for the record, we always have the right to be insulting. And others have the right to express their displeasure. It’s how that works.)

This isn’t about whether it was a joke or not, nor is this about you being a horrible person. This is about your response to criticism. This is about not resting on your laurels. This is about acknowledging that you make mistakes, but that you want very much to learn from them. It’s about remembering that if we genuinely believe that words and stories have power, that we should all wield that power a little more carefully – but especially those of us who wield words professionally. Because others are watching to see what we do.

As for me, it’s about not being passive about the content I enjoy. It’s about knowing that the pen really is mightier than the sword, and speaking up when the people wielding the pens release a little more hate into the world than they might have intended. There’s a big responsibility on both sides, and it’s about neither side shirking it.

It’s about changing the world. Seems right up your alley. πŸ™‚

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3 Comments

  1. Daniel Weiss

    You make a fair point, it’s not okay to offend people, and callous to not acknowledge that. However, I think perhaps his original sarcasm is meant to point out that the question is misguided entirely. The writer is focusing on gender and how to treat female subjects; why not think of them as simply people first?

    • Teresa Jusino

      I totally get that, and I agree on that point. But there’s no reason to throw another group of people under the bus as a joke to make a point, you know? He could’ve just, you know, SAID that. πŸ™‚ All I want is for people to think about the words they use a little more carefully, that’s all. Writers are supposed to be good at that!

  2. BOLD! I like it!

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