Letter to the editor

Opinion misguided and lacked research

I found “Identification unnecessary in political realm, Nov. 15” extremely offensive. It smacks of intolerance, ignorance and even outright hostility to the transgender community. Its misleading title provides a taste of the issues within.

The author (along with much of the general populace) lacks a clear understanding of transgender issues. First off, transgender people do not “redefine their gender,” as the article offensively argues.

Gender is by definition a social construct and is not related to the biological concept of sex. Many transgender people identify with a certain gender from a young age, making any “redefinition” impossible. This anomaly is only the beginning.

The author willingly ignores reality in her quest to focus on “larger problems.” If she considered that 27 people were murdered in 2010 on the basis of their perceived or actual LGBT identity, perhaps she would see differently. Instead, she argues for more tolerance of intolerance — that is, respect for anti-transgender sentiment and hate speech. She accepts bigotry as the standard, saying intolerance is “just reality.”

It would be easier to refute the author’s perspective if she had formed a coherent opinion. She first claims to support universal rights and a world without discrimination. Yet she goes on to castigate an entire demographic for their supposed “personal choices.”

She seems to suggest that transgender people make decisions on a whim, fulfilling the stereotype of fickle and superficial gay people broadcast in popular media. Her tone ultimately proves condescending. To tell transgender people they “need to be aware of the effects of such decisions” is not a revelation to any member of that demographic. Clearly, one does not define one’s gender easily or hastily.

Social issues aside, the author commits grave errors in her exploration of the political and legal aspects of the issue. The passing reference to two important California laws indicates she did not actually study them in any detail. As a result, the author frames the issue in a misleading way.

She creates a false dilemma between support for minority rights and support for transgender rights, refusing to recognize the interdependent relationship between the two.

One cannot support racial tolerance while castigating people for their gender identity. Her approach is ultimately offensive because of its hypocrisy.

Salama is fully entitled to her opinion, and can be forgiven for factual mistakes. After all, most of us know very little about transgender issues and continue to learn about them with good intentions.

The Daily Trojan, however is not a forum for people to write cluelessly about sensitive topics. Salama is not qualified to speak on transgender issues.

Our student newspaper should represent fairly the views of students, and commit itself to factual integrity. Articles such as these paint a very poor picture of our campus community and the character of our students.

I hope that, in the future, the Daily Trojan will publish more open-minded and tactful opinion pieces.

Casey Penk

Sophomore, East Asian area studies

5 replies
  1. Casey Penk
    Casey Penk says:

    Suni, first off, I am male. Second, I did not actively choose to crusade for this cause – it happened that someone spoke out ignorantly about this issue and I decided to respond with refuting facts.

    I did not, at any point, level any personal attacks against the author. I criticized her style and approach, while recognizing that we all make mistakes. The measure of a responsible writer is to learn from them and hopefully address them somehow. I trust the author has learned something from the widespread outcry against her article – either to consider their objections, or reformulate her argument to make it more compelling and reasonable. Whatever the case, there is nothing defensible about unsubstantiated and vitriolic arguments, and they deserve to be criticized.

    I also did not claim to have a perfect understanding of science, nor that the science was fully established. Rather, I suggested that her particular claims were invalid according to anyone of authority on this issue. If you object to mainstream scientific findings, I am not the person to talk to.

  2. Suni Ellis
    Suni Ellis says:

    Nobody wants to argue with you, Ms. Penk, because it is incumbent upon you to make your argument compelling – not everybody else to defend the natural order and accepted societal constructs.

    Even though I am not sympathetic to your cause, I am interested in your mission to persuade people on behalf of your cause. My strategic advice: don’t call people bigots, intolerant, and ignorant – nor claim that science is irrefutably on your side. These aspects hurt your case.

    People take pride in their shame – it’s been chronicled through history. Make sure you know who you’re fighting for.

    Suni Ellis

  3. Casey Penk
    Casey Penk says:

    Steve, I believe you have the wrong impression of my letter. I fully support the right of journalists to express their views in a civil and informed fashion. However, the original piece showed a clear lack of research, unfounded and fallacious arguments, and comments bordering on hate speech.

    Despite those serious flaws, the First Amendment protects her freedom of expression, as it should. Thus it is the journalistic and moral responsibility of Daily Trojan authors and editors to check her basic facts and question her underlying assumptions. Her writing, as with any published content, is subject to extensive revision. Any objective journalist would have pulled the plug on this article, or at least brought it back to the drawing board until it could be salvaged. The review process clearly broke down at some point.

    All this goes without mentioning the actual issues discussed in the article.

    If we examine the nature of student opinion, comments on the article indicated an overwhelming opposition to the views she expressed. If anyone strongly supported her argument, perhaps they would have written a thoughtful defense. I imagine that, since the newspaper had the nerve to publish the original opinion piece, they would be equally willing to broadcast a well-written supporting letter.

    Yet even if students forcefully endorsed transphobia, the Daily Trojan reserves the right to do the right thing. It receives no funding from the University and is not accountable to student opinion.

    I simply hope for them to take the higher ground.

  4. Steve
    Steve says:

    Basically what the letter says is “the Daily Trojan should only publish things that I agree with”. Which has been the overall theme of this “controversy”. For a student body that beats its collective chest so often about diversity, it’s hypocritical to only allow for diversity that a few students agree on. Whether or not you agree with the original article, it’s absolutely ridiculous to say it shouldn’t be published. I don’t know why I expect anything more from the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert generation, but I guess I do. It just sets me up to be constantly disappointed.

  5. USC
    USC says:

    Thank you very much for your letter. The Daily Trojan executive staff members do not seem to understand what is going on. I hope the paper did not publish that ridiculous opinion piece to increase readership of the paper. DT is not MTV and no need to create a show like “Jersey Shore.” I understand readership of DT has declined over the years because of its poor contents that are unrelated to students but creating controversy is not the way to increase readership. Why don’t you learn from Oprah Winfrey and continue the paper with “good intention” without worrying about readership? When your readers feel the connection with DT, then more people will read your paper.

    Regardless, I highly recommend DT to issue a statement regarding the controversy.

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