The Austin Chronicle


February 6, 2004, Columns

Concern Over Pronoun Choice

Dear Editor,

I would like to both thank you and chide you for your article published in today's Chronicle about Tesía Samara ["The Death of Ben Brownlee," News, Jan. 30]. The piece was detailed and truly outlined some of the horrors that face transgendered youth in this country, but you declined to do one thing that would have added a little respect. Constantly referring to her as "Ben" and using male pronouns are not only disrespectful, but I believe further exasperates the problem that confronts all transgendered people of all ages. Reporting this by using the name Tesía, as she obviously would have preferred, would have given her short life a little more meaning. I would hope that in the future you would seek out the advice of local or national transgender organizations or, at the very least, on any GLBT related story, check with GLAAD before publishing.

Lisa Scheps

Transgender Advocates of Central Texas

[News Editor Michael King responds: "The Death of Ben Brownlee," by Jordan Smith, is a story about a 15-year-old youth just discovering and creating his/her own identity, as well as about the people who knew and loved Ben/Tesía every day and who themselves were making a journey of understanding. The quotations in the story are in the voices of the people who spoke them. The writer and editors made the decisions on writing this story, in this way, for this particular group of people. A different story about a different person in different circumstances would obviously require its own judgments, and we would make those decisions based on the story and the people involved.]

'Chronicle' Story One Last Insult

Dear Editor,

Poor Tesía. The path of a transsexual is never an easy one, and hers less so than most.

And after death, one last insult: A newspaper story that repeatedly denies her existence, continually referring to her as "he" and using the male name that surely made her wince every time someone used it ["The Death of Ben Brownlee," News, Jan. 30]. I can't believe that her mother, her friends, and her few supportive teachers all called her by the wrong name and gender – anyone who cares even a little bit about a transsexual makes an effort to get it right. How many of those quotes were "fixed" to have the "right" sex or name?

This story pretends to take a sympathetic tone, but its constant refusal to use her name or gender rather undercuts that, turning it into a cruel, mocking attack on her hopes and dreams of being herself.

Margaret Trauth

Los Angeles

[Michael King responds: 1) Ben/Tesía was not a transsexual. 2) Your long-distance certitude, condescension, and "wincing" are entirely your own. 3) No quotations were altered.]

More Pronoun Controversy

Dear Editor,

I would first like to commend Jordan Smith for his thorough and thoughtful reporting on the life and tragic death of Tesía Samara (Ben Brownlee) ["The Death of Ben Brownlee," News, Jan. 30]. That said, I must take issue with the manner in which he refers to Tesía in the article. Mr. Smith, in his use of the inappropriate pronoun "he" and by repeatedly referring to her as Ben, unintentionally, I'm sure, serves to perpetuate the kind of intolerance and misunderstanding that drove Tesía to her death. Were it not for the fact that he is a journalist, I would find his lack of sensitivity to this issue excusable, as most people have little or no understanding of what it is like to be transgendered in this society. However, as a journalist, I would expect Mr. Smith, in researching the issues involved in this story, to recognize the very basic and tragic lesson of Tesía's death, that had she been recognized and accepted as the person she perceived herself to be, she'd be with us today. Tesía saw herself as female, yet her peers referred to her as a male, while ridiculing, abusing, and humiliating her for her failure to conform to male standards of dress and behavior. In choosing to refer to Tesía as Ben and as a "he," Mr. Smith validates in a small but very meaningful way the prejudice and intolerance that made Tesía's life unbearable.

Again, I'm sure that Mr. Smith's heart was in the right place, but it is important for him to recognize the importance of the media in shaping people's attitudes. Had he simply followed the Associated Press stylebook recommendations for covering transgendered people, which call for the use of pronouns consistent with the way the individual lives publicly, his article would have demonstrated the measure of respect to which Tesía is entitled, in both life and death.

Rachel Stevens

[Michael King responds: Ms. Jordan Smith thanks you for your thoughts on pronoun usage. We have received many similar letters about our pronoun usage.]

Protect the Environment

Dear Editor:

Mayor Wynn's call for a "scientific" analysis of the many benefits of granting Temple-Inland an SOS Ordinance amendment versus the "single con" of such an amendment somehow manages to ignore the most important points ["Postmarks," Jan. 23]. Wynn praises the company's idea of capturing untreated runoff from 19 acres of homes located up the hill from T-I's offices, but forgets the secondary effects of 600-800 employees the company seeks to move to Austin from other cities. Most if not all of these employees would seek to locate themselves nearby in the Barton Springs Watershed and all of them would add automobile droppings and congestion to South MoPac and other Edwards Aquifer Watershed roadways. These secondary effects provide the foundation for the council's own Smart Growth policies that direct employers and job centers into the Desired Development Zone and away from the Water Quality Protection Zone. The company's mitigation plan did nothing to address these issues.

Wynn's fair and balanced analysis would also "couple" the purported environmental benefits with those of "job creation" and "social equity," as if all of these interests would not best be promoted by steering Temple-Inland's expansion into preferred growth areas. Rather than "coupling" benefits, this argument really seeks to resurrect the divide-and-conquer arguments of "jobs vs. environment" and "environmentalists vs. minorities." These arguments boil down to setting aside the long-term best interests of the community in order to meet short-term corporate demands.

My guess is that Temple-Inland – a banking, real estate development, insurance, and timber company – has the creativity and leadership to find a good home for its employees and adapt its other business ventures in Central Texas to enhance all of our community values (only recently summed up in the Envision Central Texas survey results). We need leaders and citizens who will challenge them – and other companies – to do so.


Bill Bunch

Save Our Springs Alliance

Other Side of Abortion Issue

Dear Chronicle,

I was happy to see you had published the picture of the unborn baby at age 22 weeks gestation ["The Fruit of the Pro-Lifer's Labors," News, Jan. 16]. That picture so aptly tells the story of life at its early stages, and the tragedy of life cut so short by abortion.

The more people educated by pertinent information such as that picture, the fewer lives lost to abortion. Moreover, with so many loving and eligible wishful parents on adoption waiting lists, but so few available babies due to abortion, such education can provide more babies for adoption. And, those who would have resorted to abortion will not have to struggle with the guilt and trauma associated therewith.

When I was a young adult I had an abortion, and have suffered great guilt and depression (requiring costly counseling and anti-depressant medication). Later in my adult years my new husband and I were elated when I became pregnant. However, that joy was short-lived when it turned out that that (safe and legal) abortion had caused damage to my body which resulted in a miscarriage at 13 weeks (three months, one week). That baby was a girl. That miscarriage left me sterile. Sometime thereafter my husband and I adopted a beautiful (toddler) baby boy – who is now in college and an active volunteer in the community. Oh, did I mention he is beautiful?

Your publication is very opinionated and one-sided on the abortion issue and other issues as well. Don't you think responsible journalism dictates telling all sides to a story? Please start telling the facts from the "other side" of the abortion issue – don't just spew hype and rant about the fanatic fringe – but do tell the real stories from real people. Please?!


Wanda Becker

Respect Human Life in All Stages

Dear Editor,

Don't ever underestimate Louis Black's writing skills. "Page Two" for Jan. 30 was a well-crafted and passionate statement of position.

Put me down as one of those pro-lifers who is also against the death penalty and "war as a first resort."

Examples of some of the zealotry the pro-life side exhibits remind me that the ability of the human mind to rationalize has cleared the way for some of the most dastardly deeds ever done. At least the Planned Parenthood boycotters aren't killing doctors or blowing up clinics. I wish I could state my views as eloquently as Mr. Black. I just wish we had more respect for human life, in all its forms.

(p.s. It was great to see the letter from Julian Ward ["Postmarks" online, Jan. 29]. It's been a while since I've seen him in print.)

Bob Crowley

Appreciating Keeshan and Acosta

Dear Belinda [Acosta],

I was very moved by your piece on the passing of Bob Keeshan and completely echo your sentiments ["TV Eye," Screens, Jan. 30]. I am approaching 47 and agree with the merits of the Captain in black and white; one's imagination was more engaged when you could imagine what color things are. But was there no doubt Mr. Green Jeans' jeans were green, and the Captain's jacket had to be black, was there?

In the mid-Eighties when I was the assistant conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in New York, I was in charge of conducting educational and family concerts. Bob Keeshan was engaged to be the guest star of one of them, and you can imagine my elation. What I was unprepared for was the scene when he walked on the stage of the Eastman Theater for the one and only rehearsal. When I introduce a guest artist to the orchestra at any first rehearsal, the response is anything from polite to enthusiastic depending on the stature of the soloist. Before I had the chance to say, "Ladies and gentlemen, would you please welcome Bob Keeshan," the orchestra, upon seeing him walk onto the stage, greeted him with foot stomping, cheering, and whistling as if Babe Ruth had appeared. To this day, no guest artist in my 25 years of conducting has received anything close to the ovation Bob received from the RPO that morning. Of course, all of them had grown up with the Captain, too.

Keeshan was fond of classical music and appeared with many orchestras over the course of his career to help promote that art form to children (and their parents). I was so thrilled to meet and work with him that Sunday, to see his bowl-haircut wig sitting on its stand in his dressing room, and to have an autographed Captain Kangaroo LP in my collection. He was as nice off-stage as he was on.

You are right; our childhood is officially dead.

Thanks for the memories,

Peter Bay

Austin Symphony Orchestra

A Whiff of Fresh Air

Dear Louis:

Thank you for running Oko's article on efforts to save the Darma language of Western Nepal ["Saving Darma," News, Jan. 23]. I was surprised to see this piece among the usual rants and raves of local politics, music, food, and film that fill each issue of the Chronicle.

This article is a bright whiff of fresh air and covers a subject of presumed interest to many of your readers. While much of the Chronicle's copy often deals with the jaw-gnashing issues surrounding the protection of Barton Springs and other natural resources of the Austin area, discussions about saving cultural heritage in the Himalayas, albeit more geographically remote, is equally compelling. Language affects thought, perception, world-view, and behavior. It is vital that the dwindling range of languages and cultures be preserved worldwide. Conservation of cultural diversity is as compelling a world priority as preserving biodiversity. Ultimately, conserving the Darma culture – and others – is as equally vital as preserving the Barton Springs salamander.

Cordially, Mark Blumenthal

Founder & Executive Director American Botanical Council

Editor, HerbalGram

Propaganda Not Documentary

Dear Editor,

I am surprised at your naiveté and lack of research on your review of the film The Revolution Will Not Be Televised [Film, Jan. 9].

Experts of the film industry and witnesses of the events have already discussed worldwide the inaccuracy and distortions of this film. It cannot be ethically classified as a documentary when there are some re-enacted scenes, images of Chavez's followers two years dated, wrong time references, scenes recorded three months later, images of events that do not correspond to what they are referred, among many other distortions. This film can only be classified as political propaganda.

To prove a supposed mass media conspiracy, Bartley and O'Briain ignored important facts. For example, it is not even mentioned in the film that on April 11, 2002, while 21 demonstrators were being murdered near the presidential palace, Chavez imposed a simultaneous transmission of four hours to all private TV stations. The media was forced to broadcast Chavez's long speech instead of what was going on in the streets. Due to the urgency of the events, TV stations decided to split the image in two and broadcast Chavez and the demonstrations. Minutes later, Chavez's government cut down their signal. Until now, nobody has been prosecuted for those murders.

The purpose of this film is to present the Venezuelan president as a victim of a coup d'état. In order to support this thesis, the film creators decide to leave out the fact that on April 12, 2002, Maj. Gen. Lucas Rincon, current minister of the interior, announced Chavez's resignation to the presidency.

As your own review says, this is "an amazing documentary that feels more like a political thriller." It sure feels like a thriller! Chavez asked for that, and he is paying it with our government money.


Adriana Urgelles

Clark-Madison Unfair

Mr. Mike Clark-Madison,

I'm a vocal, Central Austin denizen who lives five blocks north of campus in a two-bedroom bungalow built in 1924. I did move here, from fashionable SoCo, because I was "seeking the cultural vitality and diversity that comes from [living near] the students themselves." More than half of the people who live on my block are students. I have spent an enormous amount of time working on neighborhood issues, and I think it is irresponsible of you to characterize all or even some of us homeowners as "wealthy people" who "have worked overtime to keep students out of their neighborhoods" ["A Healthy Heart," News, Jan. 23].

Our neighborhood is the third-densest neighborhood in the city. Students here rent our garage apartments, small houses, rooms in our bungalows, or the other half of our duplexes, and to say that we don't like them or would like to keep them out is utterly ridiculous. What we don't like is the greedy developers, often from out of town or across town, who raze old, small houses and build cheap, large buildings that they rent for exorbitant prices. (The superduplex on Duval [Street] and 35th, a supposedly single-family structure, rents for $8,000 a month.) These absentee landlords very often neglect the buildings and grounds, devaluing our properties (creating the sterility and blight you mentioned) and inspire some families to head to the 'burbs. Do you want to live next to a superduplex?

To say that other campus neighborhoods besides West Campus "strenuously turn their back on the university" is ludicrous, at best. UNO is not, as you suggest, "simply a strategy to keep the vocal neighbors quiet." If you had spent the countless hours that I and many of my neighbors in the seven surrounding hoods have spent in meetings over the past year and a half, you would understand that our vision is not that simple.

Vocally yours,

Colleen Daly

Violence Less Offensive Than Breasts

Dear Editor,

Weird American mentality department: Twenty-two top athletes in 60 minutes of organized violence are apparently less shocking than a split-second glimpse of a woman's breast! Wow!

Tommy X Hancock

Rugged Off-Road Vehicle?

Dear Editor,

Why do people who drive Hummers have to come to a stop and crawl over speed bumps in parking lots at 1 mph? Isn't the whole point that it's worth $52,000 because it's a "rugged off-road vehicle"?

Carl T. Swanson

Where Were the School Officials?

To the Editor:

I have read and reread your Jan. 30 feature story, "The Death of Ben Brownlee," [News] over and over. I must say I am very sad and very angry. What disturbs me the most are the quotes and references to Allen Sanders, the Rockdale Independent School District principal, and other RISD administration officials.

At the start of the school year, Ben notified, by a personal letter, each of his teachers, counselors, and school administration staff of his transgendered status, yet Mr. Sanders claims that they were unaware of any of Ben's problems or subsequent harassment. Mr. Sanders is quoted in the Austin American-Statesman Dec. 17 issue as saying "he wasn't aware Ben was having problems." Mr. Sanders restated his opinion in the Chronicle article.

Open and flagrant abuse and persecution were reportedly hurled at Ben on a daily basis, yet school officials maintain that they found no evidence "to support any of the stories."

It was also stated in your article that students at Rockdale High School have been reprimanded by the principal, Allen Sanders, for discussing Ben's story among themselves. It appears to me that Mr. Sanders' primary tools for action regarding Ben's sad fate are a broom and a rug. I find this to be most deplorable, irresponsible, and absolutely sickening. I call for the immediate removal and dismissal of Allen Sanders from Rockdale High School and RISD. Would you entrust your child to the care of this person for several hours each school day? I would hope not. Please, let a tragedy such as this never happen again!

As the Chronicle stated, Allen Sanders refused to respond to repeated requests for an interview regarding this story. I can only speculate that he was too busy with his broom and his rug. Most awful shame on you, Mr. Sanders, and hopefully, goodbye Mr. Sanders!

Most sincerely,

Gary M. Neyens

Round Rock, Texas

Blame's America

Dear Editor,

You suggest foreign aid as a more reasonable alternative to the Iraq war ["Page Two," Jan. 23]. Translating this into real-speak, I get, "Hey, we'll send you $60 million a year if you'll quit knocking our buildings down." Duh.

You also suggest expanded spy activity as an alternative. I submit that expanding our spy capability in a xenophobic police state like Iraq would have been difficult.

You also suggest diplomacy, which raises the question of why America, with its large state department, its hosting of the United Nations, and its position as the world's leader in foreign aid, is not already secure from foreign hatred.

You say, "All the excuses for the invasion have always rung hollow," and you indeed list one or two "excuses" which have proven false. But there were many other "excuses" which you do not mention: Iraq's brazen attempt to assassinate an American president, its history of reckless military aggression, its cash support of Palestinian terror, its attempts to shoot down American warplanes, its activity at suspicious sites (shown in satellite photos), its undisputed history in WMDs of all types, its general barbaric nature, and its undisguised hatred of the "Great Satan" (us).

Finally, you mention the argument for the war that the "most dangerous terrorists are those supported by states, and the Iraq war proves what our response to such states will be." This is a weighty and clear argument, but your response is a mere reference to some Egyptian terrorists who attacked their own government.

I think the Mideast, like the Unabomber, is not comfortable with modernities (entertainment glut and industrialization). Unfortunately, they choose to blame America, instead of performing the difficult, rare, pride-swallowing, and almost self-destructive act of acknowledging their own human weakness.

Thank you,

Herbert Ward

Change Won't Be Easy

Dear Editor,

First of all, I want to congratulate you on a very well-written and heartfelt story ["The Death of Ben Brownlee," News, Jan. 30]. I was one of those gay teens that grew up there in Rockdale and despite the fact that I didn't receive most of the brutality that Ben did, I saw it happen. It has been almost 9 years since I graduated from that high school, and I thought that by leaving I would put all of those memories out of my head, but your story and Ben's story brought back a lot of memories ... a lot of questions. You have dug up lots of skeletons with issues of homophobia and a homophobic administration in a small town with your story, and for that I commend you. However, things will not change in that school or any other small town school that deals with these issues – given that things haven't changed much in 9 years. I just hope that somebody is prepared to uncover more of the "secrets" that are hidden in the depths of our small hometown. Thank you for a wonderful story about a tragic incident, and maybe one day I'll read about the changes and acceptance that Rockdale has gone through, but until that day it is important that journalists like yourself continue to report these injustices. The boy wrote letters to the administration asking for help and was given nothing more than a deaf ear ... thanks for the education, Rockdale High School!

James Johnston

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