Lies about transgender people (and how to spot a rubbish journalist)
Ever been kicked in the face? I have. Violence is common towards children who display gender difference. Poofter, they used to call me. AIDS victim, they’d whisper. Walk like a man, boy, or get a clip ’round the earhole. That last one came from my father. Still, as one matures, so does the nature of the bullying. Instead of gossip and ciggies behind bike-sheds, badmouthing is done by respectable journalists in national newspapers. Take the Telegraph’s Ed West, for example, who seems perfectly comfortable belittling the existence of “transphobia” (hatred towards transgender people). His quotation marks, not mine. Guess he’s never had a kick in the head. In fact, I doubt he has any subjective experience of being trans, and nor will many of his readers. That’s the trouble.
I question everything, now. I recall articles from years back, on various subjects; “facts” stuck in my head; fears I was given; health advice. Were all those items poorly researched too? I see so much rot written about trans people that I just don’t know anymore. Does anyone – from legal correspondents to sports editors – really know what they’re writing about? And, if not, why read their work? News is produced on increasingly small budgets and research is becoming a luxury. Press standards are under scrutiny. Would cynics be better off reading blogs by real experts?
Check out this opinion piece by Ross Clarke, published by the Daily Mail last week: “Beware of the sex-change zealots: Why IS the state so obsessed with whether we’re transgender?” Poor Clarke is outraged because a form asked him if he is transgender. I sympathise. I broke an eyelash once, so I know how upsetting traumas like this can be. Meanwhile, research commissioned by the Equalities Review shows that 73 per cent of trans people have experienced harassment and 47 per cent avoid public facilities for fear of discrimination. But sure, begrudge us a box that acknowledges we exist.
So, how can you tell if what you’re reading is rubbish? I have no idea how much of my daily news is true, but a visit to Islamophobia-Watch.com suggests that trans people are not the only minority group newspapers lie about. Still, there are 6 giveaways for poorly written trans features:
1. Sex Change. This is seldom used by trans people and has zero medical currency. Authors who use this have nothing valuable to share on trans issues.
2. Children having “sex changes”. Always false. In the UK, trans surgery is only performed on those aged 18 and above. Children prescribed reversible puberty blockers will have been monitored for years following careful guidelines.
3. Hermaphrodite. Widely offensive and biologically inaccurate. Humans with biological sex differences are described as intersex. Or people.
4. Taxpayers/NHS waste of money/cosmetic surgery. Don’t trust anyone who mentions tax during a polemic against trans people. Trans people also pay taxes, and we are more likely to do so when provided with proper healthcare and freedom from discrimination. Nevertheless, “wasteful” trans treatment costs are frequently exaggerated.
5. “Gender” – in quotation marks. Everyone has a gender identity. Clothing, language, toilets and many other arbitrary social cogs are gendered. Pretending that trans people have imagined their gender is, well, delusional.
6. Regret. Studies show that an astonishing 98 per cent of people who undergo genital surgery express no regret. Regret usually focuses on surgical results. Any journalist who mentions transition regret, without acknowledging this, has made a terrible mistake.
As Julia Serano notes in the eminently sensible Whipping Girl, traditional media have set stories to tell. It’s true. I was due to appear on morning TV last month but was dropped after I declined to share “before” photos. Must I be reduced to shock, surgery and before-and-after shots? Trans people won various legal rights in 2004, including the right to marry, but, unlike the gay marriage debate, this received scant press. That same year the tabloids were saturated with “jokes” about Big Brother contestant Nadia Almada. There is public appetite for stories about trans people after all: point-and-stare ones.
That said, trans man Luke Anderson received largely positive coverage following his recent Big Brother victory. Are things improving? Or could this be explained by traditional sexism, and the fact that male identities are less open to attack? Or perhaps editors have finally noticed that trans contestants are incredibly popular? The public certainly seem to adore trans people, given the chance to get to know one.
It’s a shame, then, that we are missing out on so many stellar stories; compelling, moving, shocking and funny stories; stories that everyone could identify with, or learn something from, given the opportunity. These narratives are drowned out by the bullies, bigots and dullards; those who spread misinformation on subjects about which they know nothing. For those of us in the know, it’s a real kick in the teeth.Tagged in: daily mail, equality, media, minority, prejudice, Telegraph, trans, transexual, transgender
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