Respect! (Obeisant, 8)

You just never know what the cornflakes will bring.

Transsexual Scrabble player crowned as British national champion

says the Guardian this morning:

‘Transsexual Mikki Nicholson, who only began playing Scrabble five years ago, beats opponent Mark Nyman to take British national crown.’

Congratulations, Mikki!  There are two things which occurred to me about this report.  In an early October edition, The Spectator magazine trailed an article with the title: ‘Will transsexuals destroy women’s sport?’ (Zoe O’Connell gives a fair summary of the piece on her blog Complicity).

Oh no, I thought this morning, Scrabble too?  Except Scrabble isn’t divided along gender lines.  Mikki might just be, wait for it, very very good at word games.

Except the Guardian headline prioritises her status as a transsexual woman. With a squint, it’s possible to read the Guardian headline as meaning Mikki is the British National Transsexual Champion (who happens to be a Scrabble Player).

The full article is here.  There are some pronoun issues – Dru, how does this Guardian report rate on the scale between annoying and not annoying?  (or worse or better than that?)

Transsexual scribbler comments on Guardian story

Dru here. (Did you see what I just did, there?)

The pronoun business in this article is problematic; I’ve just had a quick Google, and find that Mikki is generally referred to as ‘he’; on the Yahoo UK Scrabble messageboard, someone comments on the BBC report of this tournament, the only report I have seen that genders Mikki as female, saying that the BBC has ‘altered Mikki’s gender‘.

So until we hear from Mikki about their preferred form of address, I shall put the outrage on hold.

On the other hand, in the transsexual drinking game, we get

  1. using ‘transsexual’ as a noun – one shot
  2. describing Mikki’s outfit -one shot
  3. mentioning a wig – a double, I should think
  4. using the phrase ‘woman trapped in a man’s body’- a double. Heck, two doubles.
  5. describing Mikki’s surgical status -half a bottle, and be damned

and for a bonus, the journalist gets the meaning of ‘obeisant’ wrong. It doesn’t mean ‘respect’, Amy!

It’s tricky, coming so soon after the really very bad reporting of the death of Sonia Burgess. Maybe we should drop Mikki a line…


2 Nov

Chrissie did some comparisons with the reportage elsewhere, and concluded that it was probable that all media have been working from the same source.

This was confirmed in an exchange of e-mails between me and Amy Fallon, credited on the Guardian story’s byline, who said that the story came from the Press Association.

The Guardian story has now been amended to use appropriate pronouns.

…and a further update

2 Nov, 20:00

I had a chat with Mikki.

She confirmed that she does indeed identify as transsexual, and has a clinical diagnosis too. She is quietly transitioning in her own time.

She did not describe herself as ‘a man trapped in a woman’s body’ – that hackneyed description was tacked on by a journalist somewhere along the way.

She has only conducted two interviews, one with an Independent journalist at the competition and one over the phone with a local paper; so presumably the flavour of the story as it was printed is due to the dead hand of the Press Association who got hold of it, and who seem a bit rubbish at covering trans stories.

Regarding her appearance, which has attracted some attention, not all of it favourable (and some people within the trans community too can be a bit narrow-minded in their ideas of ‘what a transsexual should look like’…) -she says she normally dresses rather more androgynously. But it was a bit of a special occasion, of course. And the outfit certainly departed from the stereotypical idea of what a gamer looks like….

Anyway, congrats, Mikki! You rock!

About Richard

Richard of Richard and Dru.
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29 Responses to Respect! (Obeisant, 8)

  1. Gender-neutral, perhaps slightly more masculine name coupled with bright hyperfeminine and in no way neutrios/androgynous clothing makes me wonder – Does Mikki actually self identify as transsexual or actually transgender?

  2. Dru says:

    Guess we’ll just have to ask…

    • Richard says:

      Zoe – hello! Dru, can you add ‘neutrios’ to our terminology tab? This is for my benefit, mostly. Apparently crossword champions aren’t necessarily good at Scrabble. Anyone else heard that? Mikki?

      • Martha D says:

        hello Richard, LTNS *smile*

        ‘Neutrois’ refers to those individuals who self-identify as neither male of female and wish to not exhibit body differences of maleness or femaleness. This (despite ongoing Wiki definition dispute) is separate from ‘genderQueer’ which is defining oneself as other than male or female, which may have several characteristics of one or the other.

  3. chrissie says:

    I thought the language used was very tabloid-ish (is that a word? It is now!) so I did a few checks on Google using a random line from the article.

    Looks like it may actually have originated as wire-copy, though if that is the case, why the Guardian article should have Amy Fallon’s name on it beats me. Changing a few words here and there does not mean one has written it.


  4. Jane Wharam says:

    Hi, Dru

    With reference to Mikki’s win at the Scrabble contest – for which, huge congratulations and admiration – I have a technical question for you. At what point does a person become a transsexual? Is diagnosis enough or is the desire to change gender what constitutes the use of the term? Would it have been more correct to term Mikki (if labels are required) a pre-op transsexual? Always assuming that she wants to have the realignment, of course.

    Your blog will hopefully clear up a lot of confusion for people and might help to speed the day when gender labels aren’t thought to be necessary when announcing what should be gender-free national championship results!

    Just heard the BBC report myself – dear, oh dear…….

  5. Dru says:

    Consider it added, Richard

    Well researched, Chrissie, and thank you! -though it presumably means that I have wasted my time in writing to Amy, asking her to forward a message to Mikki…

    My take on it, Jane, is that transsexualism is something you are born with. I guess you can adopt the label if you self-identify with the symptoms. And desire to change gender is one of the symptoms. A formal diagnosis is helpful if you want help from the medical profession, but I think that a lot of the diagnostic procedure is just to make sure you’re not differently potty. As it were. And it could be argued that you cease to be transsexual when your mind and body have become sufficiently congruent.

    Some people identify themselves as pre-op, post-op or non-op, but I don’t like doing it, as it seems to focus too much on surgery, and panders to a prurient element in some people- hence the tabloids’ fixation on surgery as related to trans people…

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  7. Jane Wharam says:

    Thanks for clearing that up, Dru. It’s still a bit of a minefield, though…. People do seem to love a label!

  8. Dave Page says:

    Just to add that this story merited a lot of attention from today’s Metro too…

  9. Dru says:

    It seems to be everywhere, Dave! Never has Scrabble been so exciting, apparently.

  10. Liz says:

    Well, if you want the opinion of the ciswoman on the 45 omnibus, this morning’s Metro article left me somewhat confused. I really couldn’t decide if it was a publicity stunt to get us talking about Scrabble or gender or pronouns. I wasn’t at all convinced it was for real. And I’m sure it set the trans cause back quite a bit. But hey! Well done Mikki for winning, it’s not the easiest competition there is. Perhaps I ought to go over to Facebook and congratulate her in person. She comes over as a very real person on her FB page, perhaps I was wrong this morning Or just confused.

    Dru, as ever, thanks for the explanation you gave Jane above, and thanks for all explanations. And thanks for teaching me at least one new word today (neutrios).

  11. Jenny Alto says:

    It shouldn’t be an “Is she or isn’t she?” debate though (Or even an “Is he or isn’t he?” one either). The information we and the newspaper editors have is a believably female name and a person making a credible if flamboyant female presentation. It shouldn’t be a wild stretch of the imagination to arrive at “she” should it, even with the word “transsexual” thrown into the mix?

    I rather liked the coverage of the story I saw somewhere else entirely in word geek land:

  12. Dru says:

    It hadn’t occurred to me to look on Facebook, Liz. I’ve sent her a message.
    ‘Neutrios’ is a typo, by the way; it should be ‘neutrois’, apparently.

    You are right, of course, Jenny; irrespective of how Mikki self-identifies, the reportage should have used pronouns consistent with the description of her as a transsexual (woman) (in brackets because they didn’t see fit to add that bit…). So that the report would have been either consistently incorrect, or consistently correct.

  13. federay says:

    I had no idea that it was possible to play Scrabble to such a level. I am impressed. I wonder if it possible to be a professional scrabble-player? Or player of Monopoly or Twister. And how do such people at dinner parties answer the question: “…and what do you do?”
    What do you say?
    I am a Scrabblist? I Scrabble?
    And is there a gender distinction? (I am constantly in trouble for identifying myself as an “Actor”. Some wit on the BBC recently asserted that one could never refer to Barbara Windsor as an “Actor”. I thought how rude. She’s awfully funny and good at her job.)
    (Now I am also a Writer I am relieved I don’t have to disavow “Writress” or “Writrette” I only need dodge irrelevant adjectives like “Woman” or “Lady” or “Profoundly Gifted”.
    For these types who so love their labels to be as specific as possible so nobody can be in any doubt as to the history, proclivites and leanings of the person labelled, I guess there is an appropriate word for the professional scrabble player that would ensure that all irrelevant details of their lives were included.

    Come on Dru: you are good with words.

  14. Jennifer Ryan says:

    Considering that Mattel, pleaded with Mikki not to play in the final dressed as their most famous creation, they must be elated the publicity that her victory has earned them. One has to be realistic that, the general public has largely no clue as to what transsexualism is, and that a quiet unassuming girl, dressed in autumn colours, would not have made the newspapers with quite such an impact.

    • Richard says:

      Hi Jennifer, the cluelessness is what this site is partly here to address. And sometimes, perhaps in my weaker moments, I too long for those quiet unassuming girls dressed in their autumn colours. Where oh where have they gone?

      • Richard says:

        Oh Dru, I forgot – good work on the instant action at The Guardian (see update above – Nov 2). Yes you can.

      • Jennifer Ryan says:

        I love the allusion to Keats, had he ever written about pink then it would have been a perfect accompaniment to a piece about Mikki.

  15. Dru says:

    I like the words ‘poetess’ and ‘lady novelist’, Fed- they speak of passion in measured doses, among the aspidistras. I would aspire to them, but I think I’ve got something else on that afternoon.

    I hope that Mattel have the good sense to appreciate the publicity, Jennifer; putting it as delicately as possible, gamers do not enjoy the funkiest of images, taken as a whole.

    It would be nice to think we’ve had some effect, Richard; who knows?

    Oh, I’ve added a second update to the post, following a chat with Mikki this evening.

  16. Claire Hallam says:

    Well Richard and Dru, I quite like the idea of the transexual drinking game- of course the television version (I avoided TV there) would demand sinking a case of wine for each use of a cheesy song such as “3 times a lady” or “I am woman” by Australian songstress Helen Reddy. However its the scrabble story that is most impressive. I marvel at the letter synergy, those fools in the Yahtzee competitions will never match us now.

  17. Dru says:

    The transsexual drinking game is a concept I picked up over at MhB, Clare, as you may have recognised…

    I used to really enjoy my games of Scrabble at sea; especially on my last ship, where it was a firm favourite in ‘Bullshit Corner’ of the crew mess… I learned what ‘merkin’ was, thanks to one of those games… coo ur gosh.

    Do I detect a touch of snobbery creeping in, Clare? -I seem to recall Diplomacy players being snooty about Risk players… (yes, I was a member of the school Chess Club, although my games were distinguished by losing spectacularly or (far more rarely) winning surprisingly).

    • Richard says:

      Thanks, Martha D! Very helpful definitions. Although … Dru, can we add LTNS to our Terminology tab above? I think I’m missing something here, which will not surprise you.

  18. Richard says:

    HA! I see the letters LT and my brain goes to a particular place. I thought LTNS was some new (and probably scary) splinter group.

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  21. Iba says:

    Rather late to be commenting, I know, but I only just read this post…

    Hooray! finally someone asked Mikki Nicholson which pronoun she prefers, and I can talk about her without worrying that I’m getting it wrong.

    I have a question – what’s wrong with reporting on Nicholson’s wig and dress? I remember many papers reporting on her wearing a pink wig and PVC dress – it’s how she’s chosen to present herself, and I suspect that if a ciswoman won a scrabble championship dressed as flamboyantly, the papers would have reported that too.

  22. Dru says:

    Yes, it’s a fair comment, and indeed it is almost mandatory for a news report to describe a woman’s outfit and hair colour, however conservatively she may present herself. Indeed, the same happened to me when I was in the papers. It’s just the overall effect of the reporting- the Guardian article linked above was altered, but the Cumbria News & Star carry essentially the same original report as issued by the Press Association

    …which also goes on about makeup and manicures and stuff. I was perhaps being hyper-critical, because this report came soon after the reporting of the death of Sonia Burgess, which dealt very disrespectfully with her and mentioned things about her appearance that simply shouldn’t belong in a report about a tragic death.

    Of course, as you may have noticed, Mikki has also been criticised within the trans ‘community’ for being flamboyant. As though only cis people are allowed to be flamboyant. Boo and hiss.

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