experience as a queer journalist (PAPER STORY)

"As a queer person and journalist, I want to be a voice for my community, to speak out and defend myself and others from oppression. I am dissatisfied with the notion that I must hang my queerness up in the closet," writes Vesper Henry.

Take a look back up at the byline for just a moment. That name up there? That isn’t me. At least it hasn’t been for several months because late last June I finally came out as nonbinary.

You can call me Vesper. They/them/theirs pronouns, please.

I’ve been a news contributor for The Red & Black for three years. I still write under my deadname, the name assigned at birth, not because of any discrepancy with my publisher, but for my own safety. My family likes to see my work, and I would prefer not to out myself. They’ve laughed at they/them pronouns and repulsed at queer love on TV.

Navigating the professional world as a nonbinary person isn’t much easier. Not only do we constantly confront the hurdles of transphobia and the overarching hegemony of the gender binary, but we also face obstacles often overlooked by cisgender people. I ask you: What’s in a name?

People make a lot of judgments about you based on your name alone. You make first impressions with it, you put it on applications, or if you’re like me, you put it right above your own writing and publish it for all the world to see.

Many nonbinary people choose unconventional names — a running joke is that many choose names based on nouns, such as Moss, Stone or Socks. I spent quite some time weighing new and unique names for myself.

But there was a number of things to consider: Can I introduce myself as those in a professional setting? Can I put that in a byline and have my work taken seriously?

From June up until a few weeks ago, I couldn’t answer those questions with confidence. My name was Syzygy (siz-ij-ee), shortened to Zy (zee), which people either spelled right or pronounced right at first, but never both. So I balanced the unconventional with the palatable, whittling down a list of names until I found one that maybe someday I’ll get to put in a byline.

In the meantime, an expectation from both the journalism industry and its consumers looms over me. Journalists are expected to be unbiased and to consider both sides of a story. Even in my own journalism classes, I’ve been taught that journalists should report the news, not make the news.

But what does it mean for a journalist when your very existence is politicized? When being who you are and loving who you love is considered radical, audacious and controversial?

What happens when the “other side” are people that think you shouldn’t exist?

Journalists have been fired for taking a stance. They’ve been fired or reprimanded for attending Black Lives Matter protests, tweeting political statements and challenging industry standards of journalistic objectivity.

This leaves me wondering what I’m allowed to do. As a queer person and journalist, I want to be a voice for my community, to speak out and defend myself and others from oppression.

I am dissatisfied with the notion that I must hang my queerness up in the closet.

The Red & Black considers the LGBTQ and the Black Lives Matter movements human rights issues and not conflicts of interest. But I’m not confident that other newsrooms have made the same decision.

Neutrality comes from a position of privilege. One person’s “politics” is another person’s life. If there’s anything I’ve learned from my ever-evolving queerness, it’s that the world isn’t black and white, but a rainbow of lives.

Is the journalism industry ready for that? Is it ready for Vesper?