It is disconcerting, not to mention slightly irritating, to find that a story you have discovered, developed and broken has subsequently been bowdlerised, mostly in order to score a single party political point, by various of the national press. Predictable, though: and maybe a lesson for me in future on the copper-bottoming of stories to prevent this sort of thing happening.
The UK.GOV story
As mentioned in my previous post, i was amazed, surprised and generally gob-smacked to receive a direct answer from UK.GOV. Yes: the Passport Service “are considering the gender options” for the UK passport.
Did that include intersex issues? Could do. Because, as their spokesman later put back to me, the statement is pretty wide ranging. And literal. They are looking at ALL gender options.
The newspaper story
So how did the Daily Mail (and others) turn this? Why, tis a proposal to end a centuries old British tradition (it is not: the passport in its current form is little more than a century old) as a sop to the sensitivities of trans and intersex individuals.
How shocking, the great British dog being wagged by such a small and outlandish minority tail.!
Was this them having a go at us “freaks and weirdos”. Actually, i don’t think so. Or at least not directly. The main target of their piece was the Lib Dems, who now rank as DM hate objects far above most sexual minorities. No. This was a chance to take a swipe at the Lib Dems on the grounds of “political correctness gone mad”, for being out of touch, and for coming up with ludicrous ideas.
The grassroots view
A straw poll amongst a bunch of feminist academics on Monday produced the result that most would quite happily opt for a gender-free passport. Many women, with whom i have discussed this would equally go for the non-gendered option.
Not all intersex folk would: because they prefer to identify as a particular gender. My own guess (without research) is that the majority of trans men and women would much prefer to opt for a specific gender, unless half way through transition and in need of a non-gendered passport for other reasons.
In other words: this is not a clear cut “let’s appease the minorities” move. Rather, its something that affects different people in different minorities differently (and in the case of intersex folk, that minority covers potentially up to 4% of the population!). Its worth a debate.
But still, mea culpa: i should have been that much more careful with this story. How? I think by getting my retaliation in first: making sure that quotes obtained from people such as Julian Huppert MP covered off the above.
Which still would not have prevented distortion, but would have made it that much more difficult.
Should i have sat on this story? Probably not.
Two reasons. First, despite my initial concern that adverse publicity could have led the Home Office to go back in its shell, this issue is now out in the public arena (at last count, as far as the Times of India!). Initial reaction, from all the usual suspects, has not been good.
But that’s initial reaction, and the considered stuff is yet to come. There will be some far more insightful pieces on this later, picking up on the issues i cover above – and public debate should help dissipate many of the presumed negatives.
Second, i suspect i do myself no good, at times, by dithering between my role as writer and activist/commentator. I won’t trade sensationalist stories – especially not where my information has been gained as a result of providing help and support to a vulnerable individual.
That’s a bit of a downer, bank balance wise, because my involvement with a range of sexual minorities means i get to hear of a lot of stuff that the red tops would love. So be it, though. Its about trust – and if i were selling out every last victim simply in order to raise cash i’d not be happy in myself.
At the same time, i suspect i sit on stories like this one a tad too long. If its general news and out in the local press, or something that government is up to, then it cannot, will not remain unreported. No matter how hard i try not to report on something, someone else almost always does…which leaves me kicking myself at the wasted opportunity, in two senses.
First, that i failed to get the story – and second, that very often, because i am a serious nit-picking detail girl, i could have reported it better/more accurately.
So, on the whole, i am not unhappy that the passport story is out there: but i shall certainly do all i can to fireproof such stories in future.
ETA: for the avoidance of doubt (since i have been asked about this)…I DO deal commercially with the Daily Mail, and did do so in this instance.