Questions about the Nashville school shooter’s pronouns have become more confusing because of a lack of consistency among media outlets.
From the earliest reports of the shooting at The Covenant School, a Christian school in Nashville, the gunman’s identity left many scratching their heads. As word came that shooter identified as transgender, questions arose about what media outlets should use for the shooter’s pronouns.
Police first described the shooter as a “young female teenager,” The Guardian reported.
“Within hours that description had changed to that of a 28-year-old woman,” it continued. “And shortly after that, the authorities pivoted again, revealing that the shooter, Audrey Hale, had in recent times identified on social media, including a LinkedIn account, as a transgender male.”
If Hale identified as transgender and asked to be referred to with male pronouns, why isn’t that happening? So far, references to Hale’s gender have been vague and confusing at best.
The Associated Press Stylebook, in an article on pronouns, suggests it advocates the use of “singular they” when a person who is transgender uses that pronoun, states this:
As much as possible, AP also uses they/them/their as a way of accurately describing and representing a person who uses those pronouns for themself.
While I haven’t found it specifically spelled out in print that media outlets that follow AP Style should likewise use the preferred pronouns for transgender people who do not use “singular they” (i.e., who use either “he/him” or “her/her”), their overall guidance seems to suggest that journalists should use the pronouns the subject uses.
What’s being reported is that Hale requested that people use male pronouns on social media. A former teacher at the Nossi College of Art & Design in Nashville told The Associated Press that Hale had publicly grieved the end of a relationship on Facebook.
It was during that grief (Hale) said, ’In this person’s honor, I am going to be the person who I want to be, and I want to be called Aiden.’
So if that’s the case, why aren’t we calling Hale he and using the first name Aiden rather than Audrey?
Yes, it’s confusing, but we need to pay attention
I checked out a sampling of recent reports on the shooting and, in particular, the shooter.
Metropolitan Nashville Police Chief John Drake referred to Hale with female pronouns during an interview with NBC News.
“She targeted random students in the school … whoever she came in contact with, she fired rounds,” Drake said, referring to the shooter. (NBC News added that last part about Drake referring to Hale.)
ABC News reported that a police spokesperson told them Hale was assigned female at birth. It then pointed to a social media account linked to Hale that included use of the pronouns he/him. In a quote from a former classmate who used the pronoun she elsewhere, ABC News substituted “[Hale]” in brackets in place of the pronoun. But they spent the rest of the article using Hale’s last name to avoid any pronouns.
CNN likewise reported that police told them Hale identified as transgender and used male pronouns on social media. But CNN also then used no pronouns for the rest of the story, either referring to Hale by last name or as “the shooter.”
CBS News, meanwhile, didn’t mention transgender in this story, but in its sole use of a pronoun for Hale, it chose their: “The shooter lived with their parents and hid the guns from them.”
And The Daily Mail referred to Hale as transgender and even used the alternate name: “Audrey ‘Aiden’ Hale .” But it then went on to refer to Hale as her.
‘Why should we care?’ might not be a good question
I’m sure there are plenty of people frustrated by talk of transgender by now. Some might be as frustrated as British TV presenter Piers Morgan. Morgan, claimed he doesn’t care about using the ‘preferred personal pronoun’ for the transgender Nashville school shooter.
“I have many concerns about the child-slaying transgender school shooter in Nashville,” he said on Twitter. “But none of them involves giving a flying f*** about using the ‘preferred personal pronoun’ when talking about the despicable murderous b*****d.”
That’s humorously ironic since we almost always use that last bleeped word to refer to a male, not a female. I’d bet he missed missed the irony in his choice of words.
Drake told NBC News a “sense of resentment” about going to the school may have played a role. We don’t seem to know for sure whether Hale’s transgender status may have played any role as well.
But if it did, perhaps this isn’t the ideal time to be insensitive about the plight of the transgender community. It’s certainly not a wise time, it seems to me, to be antagonistic.
You don’t have to understand everything about transgender issues. There are some aspects of it I can at least try to imagine. There are other aspects that, honestly, make me scratch my head. That’s not because I think there’s something “wrong” with them. It’s just that I’ve had a different experience. That can make fully relating a challenge.
But maybe if we’d at least pretend like we might give a little of a damn once in a while, if we could make people feel a little more valued, maybe we could help more people respect life.
If Hale wanted to be called by male pronouns and journalistic style guides call for their identity to be the determining factor, why isn’t that enough?