“People who menstruate”


I’m a pretty conservative editor (if not writer), but not so cautious that I would use that phrase in a headline about women and some trans men who menstruate, as one editor did over a sponsored opinion piece on the Devex website: Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate.

It’s important to note that the writers didn’t phrase it that way. They put it like this: “An estimated 1.8 billion girls, women, and gender non-binary persons menstruate, and this has not stopped because of the pandemic.”

I understand the editor’s dilemma when crafting the headline — they were thinking about trans men and trying to be inclusive, and that’s laudable. But it doesn’t work, as we say in the business.

Exhibit A (which no respectable publication wants to see): It was decried and ridiculed after author J.K. Rowling poked fun at it in a tweet and followed up with some pointed opinions about the erasure of women.

The editor should have taken another run at that headline before publishing it. How about something like: “Ensuring there are enough menstrual supplies in a post-COVID world.”

Sadly, the editor’s blooper — and we all make them a few times in our careers — may have detracted from the important message in the piece. And it hurt trans women, who found themselves being unfairly criticized because of it.

It’s important for everyone who had an opinion about the headline to understand that the trans community is not responsible for one editor’s headline. Nor was it part of a “cancel-culture” plot by left-wing activists.

Sadly, though, that is how it was interpreted by some who see trans women as a threat to all things female — despite the fact the story was including trans men (not trans women). Women who already feel their sex is being erased by the emergence of trans women mistakenly saw it as further evidence. To say the headline hit a collective nerve is an understatement.

J.K. Rowling would go on to do a series of tweets that includes this:

In the above tweet, it seems she made the same mistake so many others did: she blamed trans people for a copy editor’s crummy headline. The tweet and two or three of her others that day revealed a fear of erasure. And that’s a larger, complex issue — but to digress for a moment, I don’t think the majority of trans women want to erase traditional womanhood. I think they just want to walk beside J.K. Rowling et al. while acknowledging their own paths to womanhood are not traditional.

I had started this piece today planning to write about the alleged transphobia of J.K. Rowling, as I promised earlier that I would look into.

But I quickly saw it as more of Copy Editing 101 story and the dangers of trying to be too politically correct when there was no need to be. It was bad headline writing. Nothing else.

So, why hasn’t the headline been changed online? I don’t know, and I won’t speculate. I also wouldn’t read anything into it. But those who are concerned could ask, yes?

Was Ms. Rowling’s first tweet lampooning the headline transphobic?

Absolutely not.

It’s funny.

I’ll leave it there for today.

— Jillian