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.

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Painting with Tar and Brushes….

There are, it seems, certain people in this country who assume that anyone who is unlucky enough to have to claim any form of state benefit must be some sort of uneducated, scrounging, lazy misfit with a penchant for cheap booze and the sexual proclivities of a rabbit on viagra. This description, according to these people, applies whether the claimant has just been made redundant from a high-paying IT job or has been on benefits since leaving school. Most of these people promoting the this blanket view appear to work for the government and the Daily Mail.

A prime example, which inspired me to write this entry, is the recent DM headline regarding the harrowing and upsetting case involving Mick Philpott:

“A Vile Product of Welfare UK”

The article then went on to say:

The drug-taking layabout, who embodies everything that is wrong with the welfare state, was still smiling even after being convicted of killing six of his children.

Mick Philpott was acting on his own behalf and for his own selfish benefit. To blame the welfare state for his vile actions is just another cynical and disgusting sales ploy by a newspaper that already paints the unemployed as lazy, feckless layabouts, no matter what their circumstances (see my opening paragraph). It attempts to paint a picture of 2.5 million people who would do anything, including killing their own children, to gain a handout. Tax credits didn’t put the fuel can in Mick’s hands. Housing benefit didn’t force him to splash fuel around the house and ignite it. Those were the actions of a despicable, vile man who wanted to regain control of his victim. Control he had lost because she was strong enough to leave him and save her children.

With no shame or tact whatsoever, we get this response from a newspaper that, once again, is acting like back street rag with delusions of grandeur, but then the chancellor, George Osbourne, appeared to agree with the DM:

But I think there is a question for government and for society about the welfare state – and the taxpayers who pay for the welfare state – subsidising lifestyles like that, and I think that debate needs to be had.”

Shame on you, Mr Osbourne, for using such a tragedy to advance a political point and to justify further changes in the welfare system. Yes, the DM regularly paints the unemployed as lazy scroungers with big flatscreens, and were expected to use this tragedy to their own advantage, but you, Mr Osbourne, should be able to put your political points across and inspire debate without stooping so low.

The DM, on the other hand, stoop so low that being called ‘gutter press’ is seen as an upgrade.

Yes, being on benefits is not nice. It’s not pleasant spending your time looking for a job, getting excited about an interview and then experiencing the inevitable depression that comes when you get the letter, email or phone call telling you “thank you for attending but….”. Its not pleasant having to record every effort made to get a job and then having to present this record every two weeks, which allows you to sign a piece of paper which enables you to receive a sum of money which represents the government’s idea of the bare minimum required to live.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad I live in a country that provides for it’s citizens in times of hardship. Unfortunately, the system that provides this relief is also open to misuse, and this misuse is perpetrated by a small minority, (in relation to the overall unemployed figures), who, on occasion, are found out. Sometimes the fraud is quite large and this then gets picked up by the media, who sometimes report it as it is or who, sometimes, in the case of the Daily Mail, use it as a big bucket of tar and paint the entire unemployed population with the same brush.

Yes, there may be people who, without any visible means, seem to be able to afford high end cars, designer clothes and large flatscreen TV’s with Sky subscriptions. According to the likes of the Daily Mail, this is most of the unemployed population. I don’t know any of these people. The people I know who are on benefits are people who have lost their job for one reason or another and have had to claim benefits to survive. Myself included. While on these benefits we have been looking for jobs, whether in our chosen occupation or not. We use our money to buy food, electricity & gas and, if we can afford it, cigarettes and occasionally alcohol. (I don’t drink. I just buy shoes instead). I’m not saying that myself and the people I know are paragons of virtue, nor that we walk around with halo’s, (unless its a copy of the game), but nor are we deliberately having children to gain extra benefits or bigger housing, selling drugs or stealing cars, or getting involved in any major crime.

We’re just trying to live, enjoy life and get a job.