As we’re holed up in our homes during quarantine, hunkered down with snacks, toilet paper, and our remotes, one thing has truly brought us together as a nation: the show Tiger King. Drawn to the outlandish, too-weird-to-be-true documentary, we’ve flocked to Netflix to binge the feline-driven drama, forget our own problems, and gasp at the bizarre cast of characters.
Among those characters is even-keel “Saff” Saffery, who, sitting upon the throne of a green plastic lawn chair, matter-of-factly recounts that time he lost his arm to a tiger. It’s just one thread in a tangled tale of madness, but lost amidst this story is the identity of Saff himself. Throughout the show, improper pronouns are used, referring to Saff as “she” and “her.” The chyron on his segments reads “Kelci ‘Saff’ Saffery,” though he does not go by his birth name.
When this oversight was spotlighted, many cried foul. True to his calm on-screen demeanor, Saff stated that it didn’t bother him. While he doesn’t identify as trans, he told Out magazine, “If people are asking me what I prefer, it's very obvious what I prefer, and that's 'he.’”
Still, Saff’s misgendering has stirred up discussion on the topic. While a person’s sex is assigned at birth, gender identity is how one perceives oneself. It may or may not match sex, and one can identify as male, female, both, or neither.
Being misgendered can be embarrassing, demoralizing, and traumatizing. Gender identity is inherently a core part of being a human. While you may not understand the concept, that doesn’t make it invalid. Thus, it’s incredibly important to understand and honor the boundaries of others and use the correct pronouns.
The right to self-identify has been and continues to be challenged in real ways. While the Obama administration helped open the door to gender-neutral bathrooms and inclusive college dormitories, Trump’s presidency has brought about a curtailment of such advances.
Title IX, which bans gender discrimination in activities or educational programs that receive federal funding, is particularly at risk, as the Department of Health and Human Services seeks to define gender “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.” This discredits anyone who identifies as a different gender than the sex he or she was assigned at birth and effectively rejects his or her identity as a whole.
Beyond Title IX, this process of rolling back transgender rights has broadened under Trump to reach the Education Department, the military, the Justice Department, and the Department of Housing and Urban Planning.
We cannot allow this erasure to continue unchecked. Even if you don’t identify as transgender, it’s critical to protect the rights of others, and we call all do our part. Work to support the transgender community. Ask people about their preferred pronouns. Vote against politicians who seek to trample transgender rights. For now, do these things from the comfort of your own home – when you’re not watching Netflix, that is.