Outing t’tranz: issues of privacy and “public interest”

Those that live by the blog, shall die by the blog – though it is to be hoped, in the case of the trans guy just outed by the Daily Mail, that the end is not quite as literal as that.

He’s been outed – the guy who gave birth to a baby, last year – and it was the Daily Mail that done it.

The fact that the arrival of the Mail was wholly unwelcome and that, picking carefully through the piece on this matter, it is clear that he scarcely gave them the time of day, was no barrier to them publishing a piece that, while it did not name him, might just as well have done. Might, indeed, just as well have painted a large red sign on his house shouting “Male ‘mum’ here!”

But they haven’t outed him and isn’t this an issue of public policy anyway?

Let’s start with the outing. The guy in question rather foolishly kept a small blog online. The blog is now disappeared, but the last entry in it reads, plaintively:

“The Daily Mail have tracked me down. Bloody investigative journalists think it’s perfectly ok to turn up unannounced on your doorstep and try to interview you. Quite frankly I’m appalled and with that in mind, this is my last entry here. They can pester someone else, this is not what I had in mind when I wanted to document my thoughts.”

I’m printing that because, sadly, it gives others no additional ammo in tracking him down. The DM have already done all of that (because yes: it was using info in the DM piece that enabled me to get to him…took less than ten minutes).

The process of outing

In the few short entries on his blog, the guy discusses his pregnancy, his family’s attitudes to same and also gives out the name and date of birth of his daughter. He also published a picture. From there, it is also possible to step to a self-revelatory post on a trans parenting forum, which also gave out the news of his pregnancy.

I hate to say this, but it will be difficult indeed for the guy to sustain much of a case around breach of privacy given the above. The only thing not entirely clear is whether the DM got to him through his blog – or whether someone outed him and they found it subsequently.

So there you have it. Had he responded more swiftly last week: had he taken down material instantly, it is just possible he would not have been caught. Sadly, though, he waited til the DM arrived before doing so.

The rest, now is history.

Sort of. Because there is still the fraught question of whether the press will go a step further and name him fully. Cause, as any fule kno, that would be “in the public interest”.

Its not, of course. And if the rest of the press are playing fair (as if!) they will now back off. For this simple reason.

The ethics of “public interest”

I can, sort of, see there as being an outward public interest case – and the DM were implying this very heavily in their piece.

Us trannies, doncha know, obtain large chunks of public cash in order to undergo a “sex change”. So reverting to type, as this story is being presented, means that the money has been “wasted”…thus calling into question the entire trans project.

No. They may not be saying that explicitly, but that is what the DM are getting at.

And if the arguments around transition were as presented in the yellow press, they might have a point.

The real problem, though, is that what the press present is a straw man…and this entire pursuit is based on a failure – no, not just a failure, but an absolute wilful blindness – to understand what transition and transness is about.

Because we have been telling the world for a very long time that transition is not about “change”, or “swapsies” or whatever. We’ve told the Sun and the DM and anyone else prepared to listen that such is an insulting term.

It was, at base, a point i was trying to get over in the Grauniad last monday: that transition is not a sudden bounce from one side of the binary to the other…but far more nuanced. That in some instances, individuals needed to be less one gender than another…but that unless one believes in absolutely rigid gender roles…it is perfectly understandable that folks will still hold on to some aspects of the “opposite” side.

Now, if you want to discuss public policy, there IS a story there. The idea that what goes down when you have gid is NOT necessarily binary. That there ARE shades in between.

Bizawrrely, to get to the guy in question, i suspect that the Mail reporters trawled through a load of trans parenting material which would have made them more than aware that their caricature version of trans-ness is just that: a caricature.

But somehow – word blindness, perhaps – they didn’t notice. (Nor did they notice the fairly obvious fact that this is far from the exceptional event that they keep painting it as).

And they quite failed to take the time out to produce a piece that WOULD have contributed to the public debate (AND served the public interest angle) by tallking genuinely to members of the trans community about how trans men and women actually see the binary.

In the end, this is an unfortunate piece. It breaks confidentiality greatly by its clumsy reliance on the guy’s blog (almost certainly because he WOULDN’T speak to them) and in so doing it fails to respect either his or his child’s privacy.

A shame: my advice to him, once found, would have been to grit his teeth, invite them in and give the damned interview. Still is, actually.

But too late for that.

Its not quite the same as what the Sun have been up to, which has targeted a whole community and therefore also with regret, i would advise people NOT to mix the two issues. This guy has cause for complaint, certainly – but not in the same way as the entire trans male community has at this moment.

I’ll be keeping folks updated.

jane xx

6 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    kathz said,

    Does his child not have a case for protection of privacy, which her father could exercise as her guardian?

    Quite apart from the issues of press behaviour and attitudes (which are also important) I believe the press should be held to account when the well-being of children is involved. I haven’t seen more than the headlines and know nothing of the individual circumstances but I think the press have some responsibility here. But of course the danger of a court case would be that a parent transitioning was seen as inevitably damaging to a family, thus heightening the binary gender divide, which is no good for anyone, trans or not. The real danger to the child comes from transphobia and attitudes which, I hope, are changing in the light of wider knowledge, understanding or, at least, acceptance of difference.

  2. 2

    Liz Church said,

    The article in question is front of the Mail on Sunday Scotland.

  3. 3

    Lucy Melford said,

    I vented my own annoyance at this disgraceful witchhunt, and its far-reaching bad effects, on my own blog a couple of days back. But not being a political animal, or any kind of activist, and not having your background knowledge and wider appreciation of the whole problem, I’m saying no more for now, and will leave it to you!

    I wonder whether the press’s internet searching – not just the Mail of course – has prompted the creation of secret lists of ‘blogs to keep an eye on’. I wouldn’t be surprised. It has occurred to me that the laws of libel might be invoked against unguarded comments made on individual blogs, either in the post itself or in the comments made. Or the press might trawl for trans-related stories, using key words, and then send in a reporter. I don’t think we’ve yet seen ‘tranny drug boss is killing our kids’ or ‘tranny benefit fraudsters cheat the country of billions’ or ‘nationwide tranny sex network will smash your marriage’, but I’m sure there are editors who would love to run such stories, and little bits of ‘evidence’ might be put together from blogs here and there.

    And how would most of us defend ourselves?



  4. 4

    Although I think outing this person is silly what did they expect? They are living a new life as a man and they impregnate themselves in Britain which is the land of the invasive press. Heck, the press in the US are idiots compared to the British press at obtaining information both legally and illegally.

    The soon to be mother who is a man should have a right to privacy from the medical community, which he would in the USA, but how do you hide the fact you are a man and suddenly pregnant? People are neither blind nor dumb enough not to figure out who the individual is unless they sequester themselves in their home and never go out and I honestly doubt that would work.

    If they wanted to maintain privacy the wiser choice might have been not to get pregnant but when they made that choice they had to know it would get out at some point. It was a conscious choice on their part and any specious claims that they are upset by this kind of ring hollow.

    A pregnant “man” is not something the British press will ever let go of. After all isn’t it perfect fodder for your Tabloid press? Just to add a little more juice to how “dumb” this person was, assuming they really wanted privacy, they actually had a small blog documenting the issue. Seems to me they wanted the attention but thought they could control it.

    I just cannot wait for the next big story where a woman gets another woman pregnant.

  5. 5

    […] the subject of trans parents, the Daily Mail has effectively outed a trans father; on a slightly brighter note, Green MP Caroline Lucas has tabled an Early Day Motion condemning the […]

  6. 6

    […] even at the height of the Leveson Inquiry, the tabloids have continued with these ‘witch-hunts’ to feed the national appetite, but, is the media entirely to blame for […]

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