Respect Equality

The New York Times avoided using ‘Gender Queer’ author’s genderless pronouns in an interview. Readers took notice.

Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer” was recently named the most challenged library book of 2021 by the American Library Association. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Story at a glance

  • The New York Times in an interview with Maia Kobabe, the author of “Gender Queer,” avoided using any pronouns to describe Kobabe, who is nonbinary and uses e, eir and em pronouns.

  • The Times in its interview acknowledged that Kobabe uses gender-neutral pronouns.

  • Nonbinary readers took to Twitter on Sunday shortly after the interview was published to share their disappointment, accusing mainstream media outlets more generally of erasing gender-expansive identities in the name of grammar.

The New York Times is facing backlash from readers after an interview with Maia Kobabe — the author and illustrator of the graphic memoir “Gender Queer” about Kobabe’s coming out as nonbinary — failed to use Kobabe’s preferred gender-neutral pronouns, e, eir and em.

The article, published Sunday, details how “Gender Queer” went from a cathartic comic about wrestling with one’s gender identity to the most challenged library book of 2021. The graphic novel has been banned, challenged and restricted in school libraries across the country for its focus on LGBTQ+ issues and “explicit” images accused by some of being inappropriate for children.

The Times in its in interview with Kobabe, 33, wrote that the author “uses gender-neutral pronouns and doesn’t identify as male or female.” But eir pronouns — at the center of “Gender Queer” — were used only once: “In 2016, Kobabe began coming out to friends and family as nonbinary, and using the gender neutral pronouns e, eir and em.”

No pronouns at all are used to describe Kobabe, who throughout the article is identified only by eir last name.

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The Times did not immediately respond to Changing America’s request for comment, but, according to the outlet’s style guide, writers for the Times are encouraged to “take care to avoid confusion for readers” when using nontraditional pronouns or courtesy titles, like Mx.

“In many cases, pronouns and courtesy titles can be gracefully avoided altogether,” the Times’ style guide reads. “If not, deftly explain the nontraditional usage. Take particular care to avoid confusion if using they for an individual.”

The Times in 2017 caught flak for misgendering nonbinary actor Asia Kate Dillion, who uses the pronoun “they,” in an Op-Ed, referring to them as “she” and “her” on several occasions. Then-public editor Liz Spayd blamed the “misstep” on “vague guidelines.”

In a 2015 piece by Philip B. Corbett, the Times’ associate masthead editor for standards, it is explained that the Times has routinely “avoided nontraditional pronouns, which are likely to be even more confusing or distracting.” (Note: It is The Hill’s policy to use people’s preferred pronouns.)

“The Times is not looking to lead the way, set the rules or break new ground,” Corbett wrote at the time. “Our hope is to reflect accepted, standard usage among educated readers.”

Nonbinary and gender-expansive people expressed their disappointment in Kobabe’s interview shortly after it had been published, accusing the Times and other mainstream media outlets of erasing “nontraditional” gender identities by failing to properly recognize them.

“So interesting that the New York Times can write 2000 words on Maia’s work (which is ABOUT EIR GENDER) being censored, while simultaneously refusing to use Maia’s pronouns in print at any point,” Portland-based journalist Tuck Woodstock, who first reported the Times’ failure to use Kobabe’s preferred pronouns, tweeted Sunday.

“Maia deserves better from schools and libraries and parents,” Woodstock, who uses both male and gender-neutral pronouns, wrote in another tweet. “E also deserves better from media outlets who insist on ‘gracefully avoiding’ (or ‘deftly explaining’ lol) eir identity, which is at the core of the debates over eir memoir.”

Katelyn Burns, a transgender journalist who uses she/her pronouns, called the Times interview “tortuous.”

“My god. Just mix in a pronoun,” she wrote Sunday on Twitter.

Even the vocal critic “in the story gets humanized with her pronouns in this news story,” Burns added in another tweet, referring to Jennifer Pippin, the chairman of Moms for Liberty in Indian River County, Fla., who petitioned to remove “Gender Queer” from her child’s school.

The nonbinary author Dianna E. Anderson on Sunday tweeted that the Times in naming Kobabe’s pronouns but not actually using them had prioritized grammar and had treated pronouns like a “decorative touch and not vital identity.”

“E deserves better,” they wrote.