Guest columnist Dina Levi: Misinformed or inappropriate? Questions about editorial cartoon

By DINA LEVI

Published: 12-12-2023 6:04 PM

Frequently while perusing the opinion page of the Gazette, I pause on the cartoon, not always feeling like I’m fully understanding it. I imagine, more than anything, they’re meant to catch the reader’s attention, and at times in doing so, blur the line or even teeter toward the slightly offensive.

It’s hard to follow the news these days without recognizing the tension between free speech and hate speech, and while I don’t go so far as to claim hate speech is behind Saturday’s depiction of a “snow they,” I do question the purpose behind the either highly misinformed or inappropriate cartoon as we consider the Valley and its place as outwardly accepting of and celebrating our trans and non-binary community members.

As someone who was frequently asked growing up if I was a “he or a she,” I deeply feel the importance of asserting that our pronouns may (or may not) describe us, but they don’t define us. Our pronouns tell us what words to use to respectfully talk about us in our absence, but they communicate nothing about our identities, or the journeys we’ve been through to sometimes land on those pronouns (for many of us, those often fraught journeys continue).

As someone whose at times harrowing journey has been quite painful as I’ve navigated the struggles of not only figuring out who I am but also how I fit into a cis-heteronormative society, seeing a cartoon seemingly poking fun at gender inclusion doesn’t sit well.

As an educator who works with teachers, caregivers and students on specific approaches to creating intentionally inclusive environments where our children, students and peers can grow into a strong and secure sense of who they are regardless of the preconceived boxes our society frequently tries to push them into, the cartoon crosses that line into the offensive.

While limiting free speech is not my aim, I do question the intent of this cartoon; if it is to celebrate gender inclusion, then the artist strongly missed the mark (it would be a “snow person,” not a “snow they”). If it’s to poke fun at gender inclusion as “overdone wokeness,” which is where I imagine it is going, I question why that’s the topic selected by both the artist and the Gazette.

Through both my work and lived experience, I have encountered plenty of people who don’t understand the need for gender inclusion or the impact of pronouns and their accurate use. I find it highly useful to share my own story and that of my kids as we engage in respectful dialogue to understand each other, where we’re each coming from, and the impact of our words and actions on experiences of either inclusion or its highly impactful opposite.

I do not find in this cartoon an invitation to dialogue, but an attempt to minimize the lived experience of many in the Valley. I’m not sure how a cartoon might both be an open invitation to dialogue while also creating in me a feeling of acceptance, as opposed to the stark contrast I experienced when seeing it, but I have a few ideas. I would be happy to engage in dialogue with the artist as well as with the Gazette and any other members of our community if they’re truly curious about what it means to both question and be impacted by the social norms that affect us all.

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Dina Levi lives in Northampton.