As the weekend of the Antidote festival reached full swing, we'd already heard from culture shifters and game changers of the highest order, with a lineup highlighting the many journalists and authors who have changed our world with their words. And yet, when Chelsea Manning was misgendered and deadnamed in the opening moments of her interview , we were also shown how a carelessness with words can harm others.
The session, chaired by former Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste, was already loaded from the past week's headline news about Manning's visa being denied on the basis of 'her character', but then almost immediately started off on an even worse foot.
Something tensed that didn't settle until much later, a sense of recognition that we are all one well-meaning person who hasn't done their research away from being reminded of how the world doesn't have room for us.
After introducing Manning (live via video link from L.A.), Greste opened with a question pertaining to her life and thought process before coming out as transgender, and in doing so, referred to both her former pronouns and her deadname. Despite the video link's lag, her frustration was instantly visible, interrupting almost immediately to request that Greste didn't deadname her to audience applause. Greste took a moment, before replying "that's fine" – decidedly not the apology The Guardian believes happened.
Sitting in that dark room in a crowd of my trans friends, something tensed that didn't settle until much later, a sense of recognition that we are all one well-meaning person who hasn't done their research away from being reminded of how the world doesn't have room for us. Indeed, the question rolled so casually off of Greste's tongue that we surmised afterwards that he had not thought to check with Manning about the wording in any of their oft mentioned prior video calls.
This particular linguistic loophole, the referring to before someone came out with their deadname and old pronouns, occurs all the time, even from people who've supposedly done the work of becoming woke. Let me be clear: this is not an acceptable thing to do, whether or not you knew someone before they transitioned, and especially not on a literal platform, interviewing someone who has to sit there for another 55 minutes and talk with you.
As my row of friends filed out, we hugged and sat in a wordless moment of emotions we couldn't quite express. We laughed, we rolled our eyes, we listed off the dozen trans people we knew who'd have been perfect to chair a talk like that.
Even aside from the constant frustration of being misrepresented and misgendered that so many transgender people deal with, it was clear that the interview itself suffered — even as Manning remained professional, her annoyance with Greste remained, seeming to truly open up only when the session went to audience questions. As my row of friends filed out, we hugged and sat in a wordless moment of emotions we couldn't quite express. We laughed, we rolled our eyes, we listed off the dozen trans people we knew who'd have been perfect to chair a talk like that (or indeed, any talk at the festival).
It's this reality that flies in the face of the professional curmudgeons of opinion, fighting their supposed war against neo-marxist public school genderfluid au pairs (or whatever it is this week), where the dialogue they supposedly clamour for suffers as a result of not treating people's identities and labels with basic respect.
It was truly a pleasure to see Chelsea Manning talk, a woman clearly hopeful even in the face of a world she warned us about, and generous even in the face of basic etiquette gone awry, but as the weekend drew to a close it became clear that for all the talk of #Antidote, we'd need a little more care than we were shown to truly be a cure.