As I wrote in my last post, stories of unfinished grs – effectively, trans women who have had “bottom surgery” funded on the NHS, but were unable to obtain funding for breast augmentation” are increasingly common. What is interesting, with any story as it starts to build into a standard narrative, is the way in which different papers handle it.
The original story
Let’s take the case of transsexual builder Cathy Daniels who has apparently been left “half man, half woman” by this inadequate process. The story begins, approximately, in the Lancashire Telegraph on 26 September.
Under the heading “Burnley transexual left ‘in limbo’ after NHS refuses to fund breast op” is a fairly lengthy and reasonably sympathetic treatment of this tale. Across 540 words, the essentials are there – she’s had £60k’s worth of surgery already…needs another £5k’s worth to make things right.
There’s comment from the local pct. Comment from the Gender Society. Comment from the local MP, too. It’s a relatively balanced piece, setting out the main story and adding in opinion for and against.
A few other thoughts: the headline is reasonably neutral. I dislike the “half man, half woman” quote – and do wonder whether that “originated” with Cathy, in which case I’d put it down to a lack of media-savvy. Or whether it was slyly insinuated by the journo: “would you say this result leaves you feeling ‘half man, half woman’”.
Tip to potential interviewees: never answer a leading question, since it will always be turned to produce the quote the journo wants. I know: I do it all the time. : )
The photo is unfortunate: very confrontational stance…and a good argument for anyone doing such an interview to ask advice before hand and force the photographer to do it how THEY want.
Two more things, both positive: pretty much all the running around on this story has been done by the local journo, Vanessa Cornall. She’s spoken to all those quoted. She’s made the calls. Second, apart from the odd wince-making phrase like “sex change”, her language is not bad: the gendering and pronouns are pretty spot on.
Next day, the story was up on the Star. Either they’ve stumbled across it or someone has collected a small tip fee for phoning it in.
Much shorter – a mere 127 words. No pics online – maybe there were in the print version – and mostly unexceptional. The lede is a bit odd, misgendering once, before the rest of the piece drops back to referencing Cathy as “she”.
A DAD undergoing a £60,000 sex change has been left “half man, half woman” after he was refused funding for new boobs.
Still, i can even see why they did it. On the home front, its hard for nearest and dearest to compose sentences combiing “dad” and “she” – so i wouldnt expect a sub to do better.
Nothing new added, quote-wise – and a separation of how Cathy feels and the money issues has now been crammed together into one par. Word count considerations, probably. “New boobs” trivialises what was a more clinical reference in the original “breast surgery”. But its also a style thing: if you’re the Star, why say “breast” when you can titter over “boob”.
Where the Sun doesn’t shine?
Fast forward two days to the Sun, which appears to have found the Star story, and then composited it with some additional detail from the original, taking us back up to 276 words. Its written by a Staff Reporter, which is usually code for a newdesk hash-up.
F’rinstance, in the Star, no mention is made of Cathy’s occupation.
In the Sun the headline references a “Transsexual builder” who “wants
boob job on the NHS”. Note the subtle bit of recasting there, which then follows thru the whole of the rest of the story.
First, the appeal to stereotypes: builders are big strapping types, aren’t they? So the very idea of a tranny builder (I know: they didn’t use THAT word, but they might as well)
Second, the use of “wants”. Could have as easily been written as “denied boob job by the NHS”. Whereas “wants” positions this nicely: its a story about some “bloke in a dress” wanting and demanding stuff at our expense.
Don’t believe it? Well, look at the lede:
A TRANSSEXUAL builder who has had a £60,000 sex change says he has been left “half man, half woman” after he was refused a boob job on the NHS.
Compare and contrast “undergoing” in the Star with “has had” in the SUn. Again, the latter sets out what this grasping deviant has taken from the rest of us. The Star at least leaves open the possibility of debate: combining breast work with grs is a lot cheaper than doing the two separately – £5,000 is the cost NOW to do the work separately – so it is at least arguable that to save a little bit of money, the local pct has done real damage.
Driving home the point, the Sun adds:
Cathy Ann Daniels, 57, had gender realignment surgery 18 months ago but now wants the taxpayer to fund a breast op.
OK. A tiny bit of that will just be the Sun appealing to its usual profile: people who have no time and no truck with scroungers of any form. So it makes a nice story to position Cathy as undeservingly demanding. But i suspect the trans angle is there as well.
Last but by no means least, they have mis-gendered throughout. That had to be deliberate: the fact they have picked up additional material from the original Lancashire Telegraph piece means they read it: and their reporter clearly read that Cathy was referenced as “she”.
So, given pretty much all the leg work had already been done, nice to see the Sun putting in a little effort – laboriously going through each sentence and changing “she” to “he”.
Apologies if this went on a bit. But i think it worth it, occasionally, not just to have a pop at the Sun, but to look at how a story evolved – and therefore to see what each paper in the chain added (or subtracted).
On the evidence here, the Sun is not just tidying the story up for reasons of space. They’ve taken a reasonably neutral to positive story about a problem faced by a trans woman – and turned it into a disrespectful, cliched attack on the individual.
Nice work, News International.
P.S. Given the tabloids’ penchant for nicking pictures from local papers, it is intriguing to look at the similarities between the pic in the Lancashire paper and the Sun. An innocent viewer might think they were taken by the same photographer at the same time.
Can’t be, though, since if you try to copy the Sun pic, an automated notice comes up warning you of possible breach of the Sun’s copyright.