My job as a reporter is to tell the truth using straightforward language. But I’ve learned some people weaponize words.

News sources are often people with an ax to grind. They’re called activists, people with strong opinions about things they want the public to accept.

Advocates trying to change hearts and minds are not that different from salespeople. The only variable is one group sells ideas and the other products.

Companies are very good at using language and slogans. Have you heard that Disneyland is “The happiest place on Earth?”

One of the first things advocates do is get control of the words used to describe issues they care about. I have no problem with that.

However, there are some things I take issue with. I’m concerned when militant advocates insist the public accept their position or preferred language without question.

Here is an example.

The New York Times published a front page story on June 9 with the following quote by Louise Melling, a deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, “It’s the truth: Not only women give birth.”

The statement went unchallenged in an article about abortion.

The truth is men can’t have babies. Only women can give birth.

Melling’s argument is that women who transition to men can give birth. In my mind that statement is only partly true. The point I take exception to is that a woman who undergoes a transition is a man. Biologically “they” is not.

Here is how I understand the facts. One can’t change their sex. One can change their gender. According to the World Health Organization sex is defined by biology, whereas gender relates to lifestyle.

I don’t want of offend anyone. I believe in live and let live. And I’m opposed to discrimination of any kind. But no one has to accept something that is not true just because advocates say it’s true.

Some trans advocates question “gender assigned at birth.” The fact is no one assigns gender at birth. They assign sex. I have done it — twice.

I was in the delivery room during the birth of my two daughters. My wife didn’t want to know the sex of the babies before birth. The first thing she said to me after both deliveries was, “what is it?” I looked at the baby and said, “it’s a girl.”

No one, not my wife, my daughters, or the all female medical staff, questioned my judgement. The babies were girls.

After they grew up they could have decided to change their gender and live as a man. But they can’t change their sex even if they undergo surgery, hormone treatments or other procedures.

That is the truth as I understand it. Again, I don’t mean to offend anybody but my job is to tell the truth. I’m open to counter arguments.

To prevent misunderstandings I believe advocates should create new words for people who transition from one gender to another. It’s common practice to create words for changing times. I never learned cisgender and cryptocurrency in vocabulary class.

There are many instances where advocates take control of the language to put their cause in a better light. People living on the street were once called derelicts. Advocates changed that to homeless. When the word homeless took on negative connotations, the word unhoused entered the lexicon.

Homosexuals and heterosexuals are now gay and straight. LGBTQ+ activists co-opted the word queer, a term that had long been used as a slur. During the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq the U.S. practiced enhanced interrogation, not torture. Realtors can’t say master bedroom, they now sell homes with primary bedrooms.

There is also the matter of pronouns. I struggle with “they.”

For 50 years I’ve been a reporter. Now I’m called a journalist. Please don’t call me a journalist. The word is too fancy. I’m just a reporter trying to tell the truth as I understand it.

Don Mathisen lives in Oneonta. Email him at

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