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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Transition Truths and Bathroom Lies….

I don’t normally blog about things outside the UK but the problems in other countries, most notably the US, regarding the treatment of TS people, are becoming to big not to. Probably no-one will read this, or maybe some will but, if it helps to change even one life then my time has been well spent.

There are several items that seem to be high in the US news at the moment but, in this entry, I will concentrate on two. One is AB1266, the so-called “bathroom bill” in California. The other is the case of the Florence High School student in Colorado, (known as “Jane Doe”), who has allegedly been harassing students in the girls bathroom. This has since been proven false by Cristan Williams of the TransAdvocate website. Both stories have involved the Pacific Justice Institute, a “Christian” organisation seemingly devoted to eradicating anyone and anything that doesn’t fit their world view, along with the Traditional Values Coalition and The Privacy For Students Coalition (of which PJI is a member). All of these organisations are right-wing, allegedly Christian organisations who seem to see gay, lesbian and transsexual people as some kind of threat that needs to be destroyed.

I suspect that much of their problem is based in ignorance of what being transsexual actually means. I also suspect that they don’t want to know because, in their eyes, acceptance would mean realising that we are not the enemy and are not out to destroy families or corrupt children. All we want to do is be like everyone else and work, earn money, pay taxes and bills, go on holiday and live our lives as we see fit within the law of whichever land we live in.

I. Minds, Maps & Transition

I’m only going to concentrate on transsexuality here since the two stories I previously mentioned (and will speak about further), are about that.

A transsexual is a person who’s gender identity does not match the body they have. It’s not a choice as so many people think. It’s something we are born with and grow up with. The mind’s internal map of the body is confused because the body doesn’t match. The map cannot be changed as it is an intrinsic part of the mind.

Imagine a sat-nav which has one map, a map that cannot be changed without destroying the sat-nav and losing yourself forever, but the map doesn’t match the roads you are on. Rather than destroying the sat-nav and becoming irrecoverably lost, its easier, with a lot of work and time, to change the roads to match the map. That way the sat-nav works and you can navigate with no problems. Changing the body to match the mind is far less problematical and less fatal than trying to change the mind to match the body.

From the UK Home Office Guide: The Workplace and Gender Reassignment:

In medical and scientific disciplines, gender dysphoria is increasingly understood to have a biological origin and is strongly associated with a neuro-developmental condition of the brain. Studies, such as those conducted by Professor Van Gooren, of a region in the hypothalamus of the brain which is smaller in women than in men showed that in M-F transsexuals this region was of female size or smaller. The view that the weight of current scientific evidence suggests a ‘biologically-based, multifactorial etiology’ for transsexualism is supported by articles in journals, the press and popular scientific works. Transsexualism is therefore innate, not acquired. It cannot be ‘cured’ by psychological or psychiatric treatments alone, although psycho-social factors may play a role in the outcome. It is a medical condition and transition to the preferred gender role, thereby confirming the individual’s core gender identity, may be the only solution.

Transition is a choice of sorts that eventually befalls us, but not much of one. With most transsexuals its a choice of transition or a descent into a life of excruciating depression and mental anguish. With many its a choice of transition or die. Transition brings its own problems: Ridicule, physical or verbal abuse, difficulty with employment, housing and finances, loss of family and friends. Along with learning new behaviours, hormone therapy, extremely painful laser and electrolysis treatments, voice training, and eventual surgery, it’s not something that can be undertaken lightly. So why the groups I mentioned earlier want to make things harder is beyond me.

II. Bathrooms and Beyond

I’m not really sure if the case of the Florence High School student, “Jane Doe”, and the opposition to AB1266 are as much about use of the bathroom, (toilet or loo in the UK), by TS students as they are about the hatred and distrust of the unknown and the frightening refusal to learn the facts about that unknown.

It seems that, in the Florence HS case, the facts were totally ignored in order to manufacture a situation that would promote hostility to Jane Doe, and therefore force her removal from the school, or at the very least, prevent her from using the bathroom of her gender. (I’m not going to dance around the fact that she is female, and presents as such). Since, thanks to some in-depth fact-checking by Cristan Williams, it has been proven to be a false claim, the PJI and the PrivacyForStudents coalition have taken to attacking her in other ways, even though she has been put on suicide watch due to death threats received after Fox News aired the story (again, without any fact checking whatsoever). Even the UK media picked up on the story, most notably the Daily Mail, who, along with most other media outlets, after receiving correct information from TransAdvocate and Cristan Williams, removed the story from their web pages and online newspapers.

Along with this, the PJI, Traditional Values Coalition and The Privacy For Students Coalition have also resorted to underhand tactics to try and get AB1266 repealed. These tactics include a manufactured story about a trans student in LA who allegedly peeked over the top of the stalls in the girls bathroom. This, also, has been proven to be false, fabricated because, as with Florence HS, one parent disagreed with a transgender student being at the school and the PJI et al, jumped on the story and twisted it to fit their own ends.

Now they appear to be using even more underhand tactics to scare people into signing a petition that, should it reach the required number of signatories, will open the vote on repealing AB1266. These scare tactics include saying that AB1266 will open the way for gay men to use the ladies bathroom and that it will facilitate rape and molestation by trans children.

III Opinion

Looking from the outside, in, it seems to me that there is a lot of blind ignorance, hatred and simple bigotry going on over the water. What amazes me even further is that many of these organisations claim to have a Christian basis and operate to Christian values. I have many Christian friends, both practising and non-practising, and none of them can understand the attitude of these organisations. In fact, most of them reacted with disbelief when I told them what was happening. I also live in an area with Muslims, Hindu’s, Sikh’s, Buddhists, Christians and various other religions and have good relations with all of them and I am accepted by them as a woman. So, religion itself doesn’t appear to be the problem.

It would appear to me that, as I have said before in this article, it boils down to fear. Fear of the unknown, fear caused by lack of understanding and fear of understanding and finding there is nothing to fear. This fear then gives rise to such hatred and bigotry, disguised by a thin veneer of religion, attempting to give it a socially acceptable face. Take away the fear and the whole house of straw would drift away on the breeze, leaving behind the knowledge that we are trying to live our lives as best we can, to become ordinary in somewhat extraordinary circumstances.

I am not asking for anyone to give up their beliefs, nor am I trying to denigrate any religion. I am just asking for understanding, some compassion and maybe, just maybe, for people to open their minds a little and see us as the men and women that we are.

Its not too much to ask, is it?