Google Doodle: Marsha Johnson


This pride month, Google has been using their doodles to honor QTs of color, and today is Marsha P. Johnson. I’m very happy about the doodle, which is quite attractive, and has a whimsical flair that I imagine is appropriate, though I never did meet her:

A colorful illustration of Marsha P Johnson, Stonewall veteran and co-founder (with Sylvia Rivera) of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, the best named and best acronymed group of people in the ever.

There’s also a wonderful effort, reported by CNN, to replace a local statue of Christopher Columbus with one of Johnson in her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey:

In Elizabeth, New Jersey, there’s another push to keep Johnson’s memory alive.
A 19-year-old woman has created a petition — which in less than two weeks has garnered more than 40,000 signatures — to replace a statue of Christopher Columbus in the city with one of Johnson.
The creator, Celine Da Silva, told CNN she thinks an honor for the activist in her hometown is long overdue.
“Being that this is her hometown, I think that we should be celebrating her and honoring her here,” Da Silva told CNN. “And I think that the LGBT and queer community should be able to learn more about historic figures from their own community.”
Da Silva and her boyfriend have plans to bring up their demand to the city council next month. They say they hope a new monument for Johnson will be the first of many steps to create a more inclusive Elizabeth and one that celebrates minorities and LGBT figures like Johnson.
Marsha P. Johnson, a black transgender woman, was a central figure in the gay liberation movement
The late activist’s family, who still live in the New Jersey city today, say the movement to honor Johnson in her hometown gives them hope.

What I’m less happy about is the deadnaming by certain articles engendered by this doodle. For Rolling Stone, they feature Johnson’s deadname prominently, at the opening of their second paragraph:

Google has unveiled a new logo illustration (“Google Doodle”) for Marsha P. Johnson, the pioneering LGBTQ rights activist and self-identified drag queen who was a pivotal figure in the original Gay Liberation Front and the Stonewall Riots.
Born [Deadname]., on August 24th, 1945, in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Johnson moved to New York City’s Greenwich Village upon graduating from high school, where she adopted her drag queen persona and legally changed her name to Marsha P. Johnson. (The “P.” stood for “pay it no mind,” a phrase she allegedly used to describe her gender.)

I don’t speak for Johnson, but this trend (followed in other articles as well) doesn’t sit well with me. Regardless how Johnson described herself in life, we do know for sure that she legally changed her name (EDIT: it turns out that we don’t know this for sure), and I would think that it’s well known by know that this is disrespectful where legal name changes have happened and even in cases where a legal change hasn’t happened but the expressed wish of the individual is clear and/or context makes it clear that using a former name is no longer appropriate.

So I’m glad for Google, but I’m disappointed in how this is being covered in the press today.

Do better, writers. Do better.


ETA: In a comment by a casual reader (yes, that’s the name of the commenter, not my description) down below, there’s a link to the wikipedia talk page for the article about Marsha P Johnson. The people engaged in that discussion know a fuck of a lot more than I do about Johnson and claim that Johnson did not legally change names. Though they don’t cite sources for good information on some of their claims there, they aren’t hesitant to single out a couple of sources of bad information. They also sound quite certain about the no-legal-name-change thing, although I noted that there seems to be some equivocation going on between some people saying that there was no legal name change and others stating that Johnson’s birth certificate was not changed.

As someone who knows exactly how hard that is to do, especially when you no longer live in the state where you were born (although anywhere in New Jersey was at least physically closer to NYC than Sacramento or really any California court was to me when I was changing my ID), I’m not as worried about BirthCert gender/name as I am about something like a driver’s license or state ID card which would have been in Johnson’s power to change in the 90s, and I am even more concerned about the name actually used with the friends that Johnson most trusted and loved. From those best friends, from those most supportive family members, did Johnson want to be called only Marsha P Johnson? Did it change day to day? Month to month? For me that matters.

However, it also makes Rolling Stone’s choice more understandable. I still wish that they wouldn’t have done it. I simply don’t see the benefit unless this was how Johnson wanted to be addressed in the media, by and to people who would never meet Johnson in person. But in light of the uncertainty, my disappointment in Rolling Stone is lessened.

Comments

  1. Silentbob says

    I’m very happy about the doodle, which is quite attractive, and has a whimsical flair that I imagine is appropriate, though I never did meet her

    If you would like to “meet” her, there is an online documentary Pay It No Mind: Marsha P. Johnson, which is very much an “in her own words” type of documentary, relying heavily on interviews with her.

    Recommended. It’s only about an hour.

  2. says

    @a casual reader:

    Thanks for your contribution. The talk page itself doesn’t list sources, but they do seem pretty certain of their info and that Marsha P Johnson did not legally change names. I’ll keep referring to Marsha P Johnson that way, but with so much misinformation flying around (regardless of who is actually correct), Rolling Stone’s publishing decision is much more understandable.

    I’ll also edit this piece to reflect my current uncertainty regarding whether or not Johnson’s name change was legal.

    Again, I really appreciate your effort to bring this to my attention.

  3. sonofrojblake says

    she legally changed her name, and I would think that it’s well known by know that this is disrespectful where legal name changes have happened

    I don’t think it is well known at all outside SJW circles. Reginald Dwight has been legally Elton John since 1972, but neither he nor anyone else seems to have any problem with mentioning his birth name.

    Media with pretensions to documentary accuracy (newspapers, Wikipedia, biographies) have always referred to people by their chosen name, appending where applicable “born…” to indicate that if nothing else they’ve done some research. This being perceived as anything other than simply reporting a neutral fact is a very recent development and is a minority concern that most people simply can’t see the issue with. Deadnaming will, I predict, eventually come to be seen as rude and undesirable by the mainstream. My guess is it’ll take about fifty years. (Basing that on the time between the UK legalising gay sex and legalising gay marriage).

  4. Silentbob says

    @5 sonofrojblake

    Reginald Dwight has been legally Elton John since 1972, but neither he nor anyone else seems to have any problem with mentioning his birth name.

    I don’t know who needs to hear this, as the kids say, but that is completely different.

    Names in our culture are almost always gendered. It’s not the using an old name that makes deadnaming offensive, it’s the using a name of the wrong gender. That’s why most trans people change their name in the first place.

    And if you think most cis people don’t care about misgendering, try this experiment. If you know a cis person with a pet, misgender the pet. Like the lady next door has a male dog? Give him a pat and say, “Good girl”. I guarantee you the response will be, “Boy! He’s a boy”. Gender is an important part of everyone’s identity cis or trans, so much so we even project it onto our pets.

    Deadnaming will, I predict, eventually come to be seen as rude and undesirable by the mainstream. My guess is it’ll take about fifty years.

    Nah. Polling shows young people are already much more conscious of trans people than older people. Deadnaming will universally seen as offensive within a generation. It’s already spelled out in many style guides like the GLAAD Media Reference Guide:

    Do not reveal a transgender person’s birth name without explicit permission from them. If the person is not able to answer questions about their birth name, err on the side of caution and do not reveal it.

  5. sonofrojblake says

    It’s not the using an old name that makes deadnaming offensive

    I can see that now. I’ll confess a bit of a blind spot to that because the trans person closest to me (who used to be married to my stepsister) still goes by her birth name, which is entirely unisex. She did, for a while, toy with going by a different name, something I’d characterise as more conventionally “girly”, but it didn’t stick.

    try this experiment. If you know a cis person with a pet, misgender the pet

    I don’t need to try that, I live a better version. My two-year old is, pardon parental indulgence, gorgeous. Not just standard baby-cute, but stopping-people-in-the-street-to-stare cute*. Big round blue eyes and long golden blond locks that curl at the end, hair that hasn’t been cut at all since birth almost exactly two years ago. About seventy-five percent of the time the comments we get (and we get a lot) are along the lines of “she’s so beautiful”. Neither I nor my wife ever bother correcting them. “How old is she?” just gets a number. “What’s her name?” gets the accurate answer, and it’s usually pretty funny watching people’s reaction when they realise. I do acknowledge, though, that my wife and I are outliers in this in a big way.

    Deadnaming will universally seen as offensive within a generation

    I hope you’re right, I really do. But the GLAAD media reference guide isn’t really a great example. When the style guide at the Daily Telegraph and Wikipedia says something similar, I’ll accept that it’s close to universal.
    —————————–
    * Entirely offtopic anecodote, in case you think I’m overstating it: I went shopping with the boy about six months ago. I go to pay, and there’s a woman in front of me who is, objectively, stupid hot. Slim, blonde, late twenties, just… anyway. She’s got to nip off and get something she’s forgotten, so she invites me, with my handful of stuff, to go in front of her in the queue. I put my stuff, and my son, on the conveyor. As is our custom, I stand him between my feet as I bag our goods at the other end. As is his custom, he bolts for door. I grab him and bring him back and continue bagging. He bolts again. This time, hot woman intercepts him and entertains him with her keyring while I finish up. I pay, grab my bag, and thank her for her help as I scoop him up.

    She then steps forward and stands WAY to close to me (so close I instinctively take a step back), looks up really intensely into my eyes, and says “He’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, and I want one just like him right now.” If I’d been 28 and single I’d have been working out how to drop everything I was holding and take her to the nearest hotel to give her her wish. As it is I’m fifty years old, ridiculously happily married, and oh yeah I’m y’know literally carrying a toddler. So instead of being horny or flattered, I’m actually severely creeped out. I’m mean… I’m flattered on behalf of my son who has obviously made a big impression in the space of a minute, but equally I was calculating just how fast I could get him the fuck out of there without looking rude. Often when women do creepy things and get away with it I think “imagine if a man did something like that”, but I can’t realistically come up with something much like that that a man could do. It was a very weird experience.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    It occurred to me after I hit “Post Comment”, that this:

    Deadnaming will universally seen as offensive within a generation

    is something that I would have considered pessimistic ten years ago. Ten years ago, if we were having this conversation, I’d have thought it more likely that progress would be quicker. Back then – black guy in the White House, a coalition in power in the UK who were going to legalise gay marriage – it seemed like the advance of progressive ideals was unstoppable and accelerating.

    Now it feels like that progress is not just slowing down, it could be going into reverse. Regressive fuckwits in power all over, SCOTUS loaded with conservatives… I wish I could be as optimistic about it as I would have been a decade back.

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