Reporting Around R. Kelly's Child Shows Depth of Trans Ignorance

In Depth

Apparently, one of the children of R. Kelly has come out as a trans boy, and predictably the description of his transition has been pretty shitty. It’s like time after time after time, the media, mainstream or alternative, learns nothing about how to speak about trans people after outcries and call outs. Instead, publications routinely ignore names and pronouns and erase lived experiences. When are we going to start seeing a change?

Over at Naturally Moi, “a site for women of color” (which I am not, just to be clear, my issue is addressing the way they reported about a trans boy, although I acknowledge his experiences as a trans boy of color deserve exploration by a person of color, most likely a trans man of color), there is a piece on R. Kelly’s “daughter Jaya” who has apparently changed his name to Jay. I’m not going to comment on the issue here of discussing a 14 year old with little connection to his celebrity father. It’s an issue which makes me uncomfortable, but since Jay is already in the limelight and he’s already been made into a public figure (eww), we need to at least address the coverage of him as a trans kid. We have a terrible time with trans adults in the media, we’re even worse with trans children.

Let’s start with the title, “R. Kelly’s Daughter is Now a Boy.” We can’t even get past the title without finding something troubling. First, of course, we don’t know when Jay’s gender identity formed. If his narrative is like mine or Janet Mock’s or any number of trans men I’ve met, then he has always been a boy. If his gender identity is more fluid and he wouldn’t object to the narrative of “I was a girl then, I am a boy now,” that’s fine, but it’s up to a publication to seek that out and ask before reporting. Until, however, such reporting is confirmed, refer to the individual as the gender identity they express now. That means no titles with misgendering, please, such as “daughter” and no assumption of a known chronology, such as “now.” A more appropriate title would have been something like, “R. Kelly’s Child Comes Out as Transgender” or “The Child of R. Kelly Comes Out as a Trans Boy.”

Now, Jaya has reportedly decided that she just wants to be known as Jay. The child also doesn’t want to be pretty anymore, she would prefer to be handsome. She is part of the latest trend in the “Transguy” culture, where young people are choosing to claim whatever gender they identify with the most.

If Jay is identifying as a trans guy, Jay’s pronoun is he. What is so difficult about that? Really, seriously, it’s one fewer letter to type. I have a hard time grasping why people mess up pronouns like this, especially written. It cannot be that hard. I can understand someone you know transitioning and having troubles using pronouns as you adjust your mental paradigm. However, this is a celebrity kid, not someone personally known to the writer, and it’s written, not verbal. There’s no excuse.

I’m also not fond of the verb used here “choosing” nor the implication that “transguy culture” is some kind of youth trend. If Jay is a trans boy, he probably didn’t choose to be (oh, he might have, that’s part of that more genderfluid narrative), but unless you have a quote from Jay saying so, this is a really dangerous narrative to reinforce. For the vast majority of transgender individuals, especially those who identify as strictly binary, there is no choice involved. Gender identity develops and it simply is. There may be a period of slow recognition (or there may not, plenty of us knew when we knew, and we were small children at the time), or there may be a period of internal struggle to be open about who we are, but the narrative of “choosing” and “trend” really trivialises the fundamental nature of gender identity.

Jay doesn’t appear to have gotten any form of gender reassignment surgery, but does seem comfortable with her new identity.

“Gender reassignment surgery,” really? Not this shit again. He’s 14 years old. C’mon on. Do a bit of cursory research here before speaking about the intricacies of a transgender childhood and adolescence. We don’t let 14 year olds have sex reassignment surgery.

There is a part of me, the part that is still that transgender child I once was, who wishes we did. But that’s a very selfish and immature part. The memories of a child’s logic. A part still concerned about my own pain and very unaware of potential consequences of which adults must constantly be aware where children are concerned. As an adult and as a teacher, that little voice is one I consider but it must not get more than its due weight when advocating on behalf of trans children.

At the most, I can see a pediatrician prescribing puberty blockers for Jay to halt puberty until he is old enough (likely around 16 or so, or perhaps even older) to begin testosterone. If that’s what he even wants, and we don’t know that either. There is very little purpose to this kind of speculation. And none of it affects Jay’s gender identity. Whether there are puberty blockers or hormone therapy or any kind of surgery is irrelevant. So why even bring it up other than to to be salacious? In my mind, no reason. The purpose in bringing it up is specifically to turn Jay into someone so out of the ordinary as deserving of vicarious gawking.

Her mother Andrea has been getting a lot of buzz for her own confused personal life, which is on display on reality TV. Andrea divorced her new husband Brian McKee after just two months of marriage, so it doesn’t seem that she keeps a very stable household. Not that any of this is the reason that Jaya has become Jay, but kids are certainly affected by the way they are being raised and looked after.
Jay has two siblings that came out of the marriage that his parents shared for many years. Robert Kelly Jr. and Joan Kelly are two children who also came out of the marriage, but their profiles aren’t as public as their parents or their “brother” Jay. Seriously, should we refer to Jay as their sister or their brother? Please give us your opinion. We want to make sure we’re respectful to Jay’s transition into adulthood.

Respectful? Respectful? This whole piece is anything but respectful to Jay, his gender identity, and transgender narratives in general. It is, in fact, disrespectful. What’s with the scare quotes around “brother?” Jay’s gender identity has been established. Use brother, without the invalidating scare quotes.

Despite the disclaimer at the end of the first paragraph, the only reason to include issues within the family is the implication that these issues are part and parcel of Jay’s gender identity. There is no other point to bringing that background up, and so the final line is disingenuous. And the way that the piece ends brings that background up again, so now we know that line is disingenuous.

Tell us fam – do you think that Jay’s transition was a natural one, or do you feel that it was influenced by the instability in her household? If she’d (he’d) had normal parents, would this child feel the need to make this transition, or is there nothing anyone can do about it?

It’s unlikely that the home life had anything to do with it. Transgender people can be found to come from all backgrounds. It’s not uncommon for transgender people to come from troubled homes, but it’s not uncommon for transgender people to come from perfectly stable homes (such as my own). To speculate about what role “instability” in the “household” might have played is once again suggesting that there is a some outside cause to gender identity which can be “fixed” if only we knew how (“oh, it’s instability in the home life, if we just keep pushing our definition of families, that’ll cure this transgenderism thing!”), and that’s incredibly invalidating to transgender individuals.

And, yes, dammit, he.

Image via Jay Kelly/Blogspot.

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