Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the record-smashing Broadway musical Hello, Dolly! To celebrate the anniversary, the original production’s star Carol Channing (who went on to reprise her role in two Broadway revivals) is set to appear in a one-night engagement at New York City’s Town Hall on January 20. The event is hosted by Justin Vivian Bond, who interviewed Channing about her long career this summer at the Ice Palace on Fire Island. This is great news, but it’s unfortunate that many might have heard about it from The New York Times, which described “transgender artist” Bond as “Mr. Bond” rather than vs preferred title, “Mx.”
A quick reminder, should you need one: Justin Vivian Bond is transgender, eschews gender-specific pronouns (preferring v for he or she, vs versus his or her, etc.), and goes by “Mx.” rather than “Mr.” or “Ms.” It’s not very difficult to understand — Bond lays this out pretty clearly in vs bio:
My new name is Mx Justin Vivian Bond because it embraces my trans identity, it reflects and inspires my inner imaginings and -most importantly- because I like it. You may call me Justin, or Vivian or “V”. In the future if I see or hear the words he or she, her or him, hers or his, in reference to me, I will take it either as a personal insult, a weak mind (easily forgivable), or (worst case scenario) sloppy journalism.
This isn’t the first time Bond has been misgendered in a major publication, nor the first time The New York Times has published a piece about Bond that includes, as v describes it, transphobic language. So my question is this: why is this so hard to put into practice, especially since Bond, who came to fame as Kiki Durane in Kiki & Herb, a persona for which v won an Obie Award and received a Tony nomination, is a prominent figure in the creative community whose work is likely to continue receiving a great deal of coverage?
Look, we can say a lot about privilege here, particularly the privilege of being a cisgender person on this planet who hasn’t had the experience of feeling completely out of place, not just within society but within one’s own body. But I can imagine, say, a cisgender individual’s response to Bond’s ire: “You can’t just make up words!” To which I would reply: yes, you literally can make up words, because that’s how language works. A part of my job, as someone who has written about Bond before, is to describe v not just as I see v, but as v sees vself. It’s also a part of my job not to assume that the sentence I just typed is too confusing for a reader to understand; if you read the sentences preceding that one, the terms “v” and “vself” are pretty easy to comprehend. Additionally, it’s not too difficult to explain “Mx.” in Bond’s own terms for your readers.
The New York Times has failed not just a subject of its coverage, but also its readers. The paper of record might claim that “Mx.” doesn’t fall under its style guidelines, but here’s the thing: styles change. This might seem like a minor problem, again, to a cisgender reader or writer, but it’s another small example of a larger problem: there’s a large community of people who are marginalized and seemingly invisible, and the Times‘ misgendering of Bond is a continuation of this dehumanizing practice.
The Times‘ short notice about the upcoming event includes the following correction: “An earlier version of this article and a summary with it referred incorrectly to the site of the event. Town Hall is not a Broadway theater.” Will the editors issue a correction stating the article referred incorrectly to Mx. Bond? Let’s hope so!