T-day. Transition day. The day it all changes. After today nothing will be the same. Even if, on the surface, all is still the same.
Because today is the day when the UK’s press and media will finally, forcefully, be asked to face up to their awful responsibility for the hate and bigotry they foment on a daily basis.
It begins with an interview on the national flagship TV channel, the BBC, with trans advocate Paris Lees, and 10-year-old trans girl Livvy James. They will be there because of two other happenings that will, serendipitously, be coming together today. Its significant, too, because this is trans in the spotlight as serious (political) issue, rather than freak show stuff.
A child’s plea: stop killing us!
First up, Livvy has a petition doing the rounds that asks, simply, heart-breakingly that the press lay off. That they stop sensationalising her story – and that they stop treating trans issues as newsworthy just because there is a trans individual involved. Chillingly, matter-of-factly, she says that the language used by the press is not just hurtful, hateful, disrespectful. It kills.
Livvy knows. When she was diagnosed with gender dysphoria, and a suitable candidate for hormone blockers to pause puberty while she decided what to do next, the national press descended. Neither she nor her mother went looking for that attention: in fact, the story appears to have been publicised initially by parents who also instructed their children to swear at Livvy and abuse her in the playground.
Only later, as it became clear that newspapers would print what they wanted anyway, did Livvy and her mum agree to interviews, in the hope that by putting their side of the story, the press would back off.
Some hope! Which is why the petition against the use of demeaning, careless terms in the media. Because, as Livvy explained in an interview this week: “ I don’t want any more people to die because of this.”
On the Beeb, Paris Lees gave her support to Livvy. She, too, had been subject to the most appalling violent bullying for years: she, too, believes that the UK press has blood on its hands.
Press complacency: figleaf or fib?
Which is why Paris, now grown-up, is involved in the second big event of the day: a presentation by Trans Media Watch to the Leveson inquiry on standards in the press.
It is hard to encapsulate just how big that step is: how much of a watershed moment it is likely to be.
For sure, cynic that I am, I don’t see Leveson changing much for a long time. The inquiry is important, headline-grabbing stuff. But its only an inquiry, after which it must produce a report, which will be considered by government, which then is likely to do mostly what it wanted to do anyway.
Nor is it likely that newspapers, that have used this inquiry as means to score petty points off one another, will do anything other than treat TMW’s evidence with one almighty shrug.
Still, it matters. Just a week ago, Tim Toulmin, a former Director of the UK’s Press Complaints Council gave evidence claiming that press treatment – ridicule – of people with gender dysphoria had been commonplace. The PCC stepped in, changed their code and… Hey presto! Problem sorted.
On what planet is he living? Is he fibbing? Or just ignorant? As Paris herself quickly remarked: “[his evidence] flies in the face of what TMW sees regularly in the British press. Most of our evidence was gathered from press articles published in 2011. We see a number of abusive pieces each month. It just shows how out of touch the PCC actually is.”
Still, TMW’s submission is unlikely to be reported. Already the press are re-arranging the deckchairs, pretending that, whatever the other guys did, THEY have always been perfectly respectful. So on the surface, little will change.
Still, today is important. Because however much editors whistle nonchalantly in the dark, shrug their shoulders and get on with business as usual, it isn’t. As anyone with an ounce of perception will realize, the establishment, today, is taking trans complaint very, very seriously.
And the trans community is stepping up to the mark. There is anger, certainly: white, tight-lipped anger at the way we are treated daily, routinely by those who write for our papers and haven’t the imagination to understand the damage they do. But anger is channeled into quiet effective dignity.
A serious submission to a major political event. A petition that will have legs, if only because of the inherent cuteness of its origins. Cynical? Yes: but given the cynical contempt with which the press at large have treated trans men and women, forgive me if I don’t feel the least bit bad about that.
In newspaper comments, I have long detected a sea change in mood. The British public – mums especially – have long got it: long understood that all trans folk wish to do is get on with their lives. And just living isn’t news.
Dying is. Sometimes.
Unfortunately, the real story is that a lot of dying can be laid directly at the feet of the press themselves. Today, that starts to change.