Trans news: the need for a trans press

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.

Organisational confusion

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.

jane xx


2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    There is no universal representation of the “trans community” because there isn’t a single trans community. So often said: like a big Venn diagram we simply have overlapping interests. So no trans organisation that sets itself up – with the best of intentions – can claim to be so broad as to cover all adequately. BS represents its members but not me. I am much more comfortable with TMW, but others may not be.

    We don’t just need group activists, we need a host of individual assertivists. (Please do stay independent, Jane! We don’t all have to agree with you all the time, but you do try to be fair, and we can think together safely.)

    And I agree: we do need the media. What we don’t need is disrespect and misrepresentation, and trans groups can, and do, end up misrepresenting each other, so we all need to be undogmatic and considered and say that we cannot speak for everyone. The result of “good” media coverage will always be for any us to be interesting but unsensational, challenging to the gender binary, certainly, but in the end a visible mainstream part of society, albeit in a minority. Then individuals who prefer not to be visible need not live in fear, and those who do, are nothing unusual.

    Maybe there are signs that the media fire is burning itself out a bit and “too much” trans news makes it mainstream.

  2. 2

    Paula TransPanther said,

    Yes indeed.. As I had to explain to somebody who was saying “but the tv people are nice, they asked me to go on a daytime talk show” .. then went on to insist how trans lives should be “celebrated” .. Naive or just thick? Having armed one person who had been approached by media with the approved info to keep them from being exploited, then to get some stupid crossdresser come along, seeing not the harm they do by reinforcing the “bloke in a frock” ridicule for the tv people, and wonders why they are being told.. “go on then, let them stand you up on their freakshow and tell the world about your genitals and what you use them on. But don’t be surprised if you get disowned afterwards!!

    As for the “other matter” .. ouch.. yes indeed.. that one will do some damage when it comes out. Too hot to handle, 100%.. let somebody else expose it?.. I’m not sure. It might be better if we had the real facts before the rumour mill gets into action.. 3rd place I have heard this now.. others have contained a few rumours, no doubt because it isn’t actually “secret” I could dig up a lot more very quickly, but would that help others to find what I do, and is that in the best interests served?? In theory it’s ok, but what is the real agenda for doing it on the quiet and in the way it has.. I think they were concerned that a very large number would be opposed and would not agree.. and that is the point where the very existence of these organisations comes into question.

    Don’t you have a “BY STAFF REPORTER” moral cowardice shield anywhere?.. Phasers set to “stir”
    Just so you know.. I’m a coward.. I’m not touching it.. my bargepole isn’t long enough.No doubt somebody will blow it wide open in the next few days anyway, and the people who like to be outraged can get all puffed up for their 5 minutes rant before moving on to the next x-factor sensation., The fallout might be interesting now the BS are pretty much dead in the water and another gets caught going behind the backs of those they “claim” to speak for.
    As I wrote 6 months ago after Slutwalk. “times be changing” .. as the trans* community finds new allies in the feminist and reclaim the night movements, and the traditional cycle of being thrown under the bus by the lgb bunch and our own “professional gobs” is broken..

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