If it weren’t so serious, I think I’d find the trans reaction to the press amusing. In a Life of Brian “she-said-jehovah” sort of way.
On the one hand there is some very serious thinking being done by the likes of TMW about the way in which the media treat issues related to the trans community – and what is the proper response that both balances our needs and respect for press freedom. On the other, there is a sort of hue-and-cry approach – they said “trans”: kill them! – that is in danger of getting in the way of any meaningful interaction.
Worse, we risk a baby-with-bathwater approach, hobbling ourselves in respect of major serious debates likely to be coming up over the next decade – and unable to make use of the press in ways taken for granted by the cis world.
Let’s start with Press 101. Its simple: don’t talk to them. When some unannounced reporter turns up on your doorstep, don’t just fluster and say the first thing that comes to mind. Politely decline to comment: and close the door. Simples? Yes.
But that’s just lesson 1. Thereafter comes a much more complex series of lessons, which many seem not to have got at all.
Lesson 2 is: if they are going to write about you, DO interact. The only point of lesson 1. is to do with ambush and responding unawares. You can and should take control of debate as far as you can. Get your point of view out there, in writing, through formal release, if at all possible. Basically, DON’T bury your head in the sand and wish the express train would turn on to a different track.
Barring another 9/11, it won’t.
The above goes double for organisations. Not only are organisations presumed to have some degree of press nous: if they in any way are working with or on behalf of the community, they almost certainly SHOULD be out there putting a point of view. Two quite good examples of press handling are Mermaids and GIRES, who tend to stick to the golden rule of controlling the encounter and communicating what THEY want.
I’ve written about the Beaumont Soc previously, and really don’t wish to again. What’s done is done and by all accounts, lessons have been learned. But there are other trans organisations out there that haven’t yet been “found out” – and therefore are, in their own way, loose cannons.
Naming names is probably not a good idea right now: suffice it to say, one case that is front of mind went down several months back, involved a high-profile organisation that had a chance to make positive input to a story…and because they took the “press-is-bastards” line and refused to comment…something much worse got out there.
Trans folk make news
Which brings me back to the opener. The press write about trans issues – and fat issues, and abuse issues and drugs issues and everything else – for a simple reason. It fascinates the public. Trans fascinates – even if the focus for fascination has evolved slightly, from easy stuff that is no more than point and gape, to more complex issues around young transition or trans men giving birth.
Simple fascination is not justification: what interests the public is not necessarily in the public interest. But nor is it necessarily not. And some stories that I hear people being critical of are kosher stories with a relevant trans angle.
Trans folk need the press – like everyone else
Which opens two further points. To hear some speak, you’d think trans is the ultimate secret wot none should ever mention. Although I don’t get that: a great deal of positive awareness comes, like it or not, from people reading even negative stuff about trans stories.
Also, something I had a small dispute about recently, its not up to the trans community to dictate the news agenda. Different people telling me that X should not be written about – even though it embodied a clear public interest dimension. Another, expressing bemusement as to why Y was not a news story. Because…because it isn’t: and because in an age when clicks per story give an instant barometer reading of what does, what does not generate interest, editors know what works.
But there’s another reason…something that I’ve picked up from some commenters here and largely dismissed…dismissed until I discovered something quite shocking last week that I am still unsure how/where to write up. Which was a major trans organisation doing something that would have the community utterly divided…large numbers howling in rage at them. And yes, a chunk approving.
It is something they did in secret: a neat, collegiate establishment friendly approach. Would probably do again.
The mainstream press wouldn’t bat an eyelid at it. But sooner or later, it needs reporting.
Which means two things. The trans community, in the end, does need journalism, just like the rest of the world needs it. It just doesn’t need the sensationalist trash pumped out by SOME papers.
And second, on a personal note, it confirms my decision to be supportive of, to work alongside, but never inside the likes of GIRES, TMW and many other trans organisations. Because wherever I can I will help. But if ever I discover something that I believe the community needs to know, I need to be separate enough to write about it.