In the Beginning Is the Word

The old adage—“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me”—misses by a mile the harm, sometimes lethal, that names can wreak.

The danger is amplified in these days of instant global communication. Harsh and derogatory words said in one geographical dot in California are broadcast, e-mailed, IMed, and twittered from Paris to Ultima Thule in nanoseconds, the very magnitude creating a kind of received truth to anyone “listening.” The wider they are disseminated, the faster words gain credence—especially among those already inclined to bigotry and hate.

Consider the comments made May 28 on Sacramento, California, station KRXQ’s Rob, Arnie, and Dawn in the Morning show. During this 30-minute segment, the conversation turned to the subject of transgender youngsters, sparked by the recent widely publicized case of an 8-year-old Omaha girl. The subject is legitimate. Recently, several cases of trans children have been in the news. The Omaha girl was interviewed, and her comments could be heard online.

Transgenderedness, especially among the very young—children of 2 or 3 will present as being a sex other than their visible biological gender—is a complex and confusing condition. Someone who never has met a transgender adult—much less an adamant 8-year-old—cannot be faulted for not comprehending the situation faced by any transgender individual in everyday social and educational situations.

Rob Williams and Arnie States (cohost Dawn Rossi did not participate) chose not to explore understanding, but spewed hatred and contempt.

The two began calling trans children “idiots” and “freaks,” putting forth, “Allowing transgenders to exist—pretty soon it becomes normal to fall in love with the animals.”

States said his response to a boy of his wearing high heels would be, “You know what? You’re a little idiot! You little dumbass!’”—and that he would smack the child with one of his own shoes.

The hosts at first refused to apologize, although after 12 sponsors, including Bank of America, Verizon, and Chipotle, pulled their ads, Williams posted a letter on the show’s Web site beginning, “We have failed you…”—and promising to address the issue when WRXQ next runs the show (which it had pulled) on June 11, as Lavender goes to press.

Following the suicides this past year of two boys, one only 11, who had been tormented mercilessly by peers, and unprotected by authority, it is no longer possible to deny that names can wound physically. Words can drive the recipient to despair, and can be taken up by the tormentors as a license to bully and degrade.

Fortunately, the double-edge of omnimedia is that allies also hear, and can respond faster, in greater numbers, to apply moral—and, more important, economic—restraints on the perpetrators.

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