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Rae Spoon on Gendered Pronouns

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Drawing of Rae Spoon by Sara Elizabeth, saradraws.com
Drawing of Rae Spoon by Sara Elizabeth, saradraws.com

Rae Spoon will be performing in Haliax on Feburary 4.  You can listen to their most recent album online here, and while you're at it, check out the text below, which talks about Spoon's personal experience with gendered pronouns and journalism. It was originally posted to their Tumblr.

"Instead Of An Interview With Xtra," Rae Spoon, January 3, 2011

Where I grew up it was pretty much impossible to find a queer publication. We had to sneak downtown and buy the Advocate from the same magazine store that used to sell cigarettes to underage kids. I remember once going to a café because I heard a rumor that it belonged to a queer couple. My High School date and I then sat huddled together waiting for some sort of acceptance to happen, but it felt like any other café in Calgary.

When I was nineteen I changed my name and moved to Vancouver I remember the first time I saw newspaper boxes on the street where you could grab a copy of Xtra West out in the open. I was astounded. Thanks to some lucky turns I had an interview about my music in Xtra West within a year. It was the very first interview of my music career.

A year later I changed my pronoun to “he.” Then my first album came out and I started touring around Canada. I was playing country music and had shows in a lot of small towns. The interviews I did in newspapers at that time were often rife with transphobic statements such as “She says she is a man” and so on. I would spend entire interviews answering the inevitable opening question: “What is Transgendered?” A lot of those papers would substitute my name for every pronoun because the editors claimed my chosen pronoun was confusing for the readers. It was misleading for people to hear my high voice and then see a male pronoun. I was 22. I needed the press, so I didn’t protest the way my identity was being treated.

One of the papers that didn’t use the pronoun “she” or substitute my name for a pronoun was Xtra in Toronto. In fact, over the years Xtra in Toronto and Ottawa have been very supportive of my music, putting in listings and reviews once in a while. Currently, I am generally respected as being male in interviews. It’s become boring to reporters to rehash what a trans person is. They tend to ask me about my music more than my gender these days. I know this is in part due to supportive queer papers leading the way in letting me choose my own pronoun.

I have never lived in Ottawa or Toronto, so I am unfamiliar in a real-time way with grievances people have had with the paper over the years. I’m not saying there weren’t any others, but the first thing that came to my attention about the current transphobia claims was the online petition by Elisha Lim, initiated because Xtra refused to use the “they” prounoun for them in an article. It seemed odd to me because the argument Xtra was using about it being confusing for the reader was the same one that had been used against me regarding my male pronoun in mainstream papers over the years.

A few months after Elisha’s petition was posted, I decided that I too prefer “they” as a pronoun. I was tired of often being expected to perform a male role because my pronoun was “he.” After so many years fighting to be called “he” and having people ask me when I was going to modify my body (physically transition), I realized that for me being trans is not about being read as a man or changing my body. I am happy with the body that I have. What I’m unhappy with is the way things are gendered by society in general. I don’t feel like I want to carry out a male or a female gender role. Gender-neutral pronouns made sense to me personally and felt like the right decision.

Professionally, I was terrified. Not even Xtra was an ally for people like me. How was I to carry on doing interviews and promoting my albums in both queer and mainstream papers? I changed all of my biographies that I control to a “they” pronoun, but I have yet to ask mainstream papers for using the pronoun “he” for me. This is my first detailed public statement about it.

What would be extremely helpful would be more queer papers willing to use and even explain the “they’” pronoun, so that writers from other publications could reference their usage. Straight allies often access queer media to find out the protocol for what’s acceptable in the queer world. Right now, I don’t feel like there are enough online sources for gender-neutral pronouns, in fact, Xtra’s position is damaging and invalidates my identity and pronoun.

The most recent transphobia related to Xtra that came to my attention was the highly talked about use of trans woman Lexi Sanfino’s legal name by Xtra editor Danny Glenwright on his personal Facebook page in reference to an article about her. Trans rights may have not made it into Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms yet, but I personally think this is an obvious disrespectful mistake that should have only been followed by an apology from both Danny and Xtra. A good summary of this series of events by trans activist Morgan M. Page can be found in her online article:


I found out about the boycott once it had been called off after Danny apologized and when he further issued his much talked about editorial “Response To A Strange Boycott.” The sequence of events and responses became confusing and it was unclear whether the boycott was back on.

The reason why the boycott personally concerned me (besides being a trans person/ally) was because I had been asked by Xtra to do an interview about my new album. I was even slated to be on the cover of Capital Xtra in January. My plan was to try to fight it out and get Xtra to use “they” as a pronoun for me, hoping they had learned from their mistake with Elisha. However, when there was no official apology to Lexi Sanfino I told the writer that I couldn’t do an interview until things were sorted out. Time passed and, as there was still no apology or guarantee that Xtra would use “they” as my pronoun for the article, I informed them that I wasn’t willing to be in the January publication. It was very hard for me to understand why neither of things could happen.

I was asked by the person who was going to write the interview what it would take (regarding the current boycott) for me to do an interview with Xtra again. Although it’s too late for that interview, I would only feel comfortable working with Xtra if both Danny Glenwright and the entire paper made a full public apology to Lexi Sanfino. I would also require that Xtra officially mandate the inclusion of trans, bi and intersex (alongside the currently recognized gay and lesbian) folks, since they/we have been unofficial content for quite some time and deserve recognition. I would also like to see some sort of official policy for editors and writers regarding chosen names and pronouns.

It’s been over ten years since my first interview in Xtra and it feels very strange to be releasing a new album without their support. In Ottawa, my show is at a new queer party called Q-Bounce (http://www.facebook.com/groups/189208117826580/) and without Capital Xtra there are very few publications for us to approach for listings and promotion.

This is my thanks to Xtra for supporting me throughout the years and my plea to them that the necessary steps regarding the inclusion of trans people are taken. There are a lot of other oppression issues in the queer community, and there is obviously a lot of work to be done by everyone. The only way we all can move forward is by apologizing when we make mistakes and trying to not make them again.


Rae Spoon



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