Media and Misinformation….

In this glorious new internet age we are bombarded by the media. 24 hour news channels both online and television, online newspapers, online news sites et al. The sheer quantity of accessible information is staggering. Unfortunately not all of it is correct, and some of it is just outright lies. In this information age, misinformation is one of the biggest problems. People believe the media, believe what they read in the papers and online. They believe what they watch on the television, what they’re told but, if the facts are wrong then there will be problems. For trans people, these problems can be huge, even deadly.

As you may, or may not know, there was a big misinformation campaign against a trans student by a US right-wing group called ‘Privacy For All Students’, featuring the Pacific Justice Institute. I’ll not repeat it but you can read about it here. The story was picked up by US national newspapers and television stations, including some here in the UK. Amazingly, not one of these media outlets fact-checked the story. They just assumed it was true and it continued to spread. It wasn’t until the story was fact-checked by Cristan Williams of The Transadvocate that the truth finally came out. The whole story was manufactured, false, but the damage had been done. The student in question ended up on suicide watch.

This is an extreme example of how the media can be manipulated and be made to serve others’ malicious purposes. Here in the UK we have another problem. Not one of malicious, targeted campaigns, but one of long term, inertial misinformation.

Ever since the seventies and eighties, media outlets such as tabloid newspapers and mid-morning chat shows have portrayed trans people in a bad light, misrepresenting us in such a way that we became laughable, objects of ridicule to be pointed at in the street. For trans women it was worse. We became ‘blokes in dresses’, ‘freaks’ and ‘weirdo’s’. We were having sex-changes, being castrated, hormones were giving us instant female bodies. Tabloids were obsessed with what we were wearing, rather than our actual stories. There was rarely any reporting of the story behind the person, documenting the pain behind transition. The stories always seem to rest on the phrases “I felt like a woman” and “I always wanted to be a woman”, making it sound like a decision taken one morning after breakfast. No-one took transsexuals seriously. It was seen as ok for us to be beaten in the street, have graffiti daubed on our homes. To be transsexual was to be an object, non-human almost, worthy of none but the most base attention.

Nowadays, things are different. Or are they? With certain newspapers the reporting hasn’t changed all that much. Neither has the language used to describe us. Still the process of transition is glossed over, making it sound like something you do in your spare time. No information is imparted to the readers or viewers about what transsexuality actually is. The differences between Gender Identity, Expression and Role is rarely, if ever, mentioned or explained. We are still seen as the subject for salacious gossip and maliciously intrusive reporting. The case of Lucy Meadows is a case in point. No link between the reporting and her suicide has been established but there is no doubt, in my eyes at least, that it was a contributory factor.

I would appeal to the media, should any member of it read this, to change. Change the way our stories are reported. Do your research. Fact-check stories if and when they come in. Speak to trans organisations such as GIRES and Mermaids, (when reporting on trans children and teens). Rather than concentrating on what happens to our genitals, ask us how our lives have changed, how much better they have become. Listen to us, ask us questions and we will give you answers. We are the ones living our lives, the ones who can tell you how we feel, no-one else. Don’t ask us what we wear day-to-day, ask us what we do day-to-day, how we live and work, and you will see how ordinary we are.

Remember: In our quest to become who we really are, we go through incredible changes, painful changes, in order that we might live ordinary lives. We suffer prejudice and bigotry, some of us on a daily basis, so that we may fade into the background and become someone you will pass on the street without a second glance. All we ask is the right to live without fear of hatred, to walk the streets and go shopping or visit friends without the fear of abuse and this can only come about with the help of the media.

After all, if its in the paper, it must be true.