A Baker’s Dozen of tropes, techniques and total tripe that the UK media reach for when trash-talking trans people
Over the last three years, the UK press and broadcast media have unleashed an unprecedented wave of hate against trans people. To the enormous chagrin of our media barons, it is not (yet) permitted to publish articles composed entirely of the phrase “trans people suck”. So they have to find other ways to have a go. Here, at the start of Trans Awareness Week, is a handy guide to some of the ways in which they do so.
And a Bingo card.
It begins with the lie direct: the statement, as fact, that a thing that is definitely untrue is true. There’s a lot of it about.
Yay! It’s Trans Awareness Week and for seven days, the UK Press will be reporting on trans people fully, fairly and without spin…
Sorry: no. Jane is clearly still dreaming…as are any of you, dear readers, who believe there is a cat’s chance in hell of any of this happening any time soon. So instead, for those who get that the mainstream media are awful but can’t quite put your finger on HOW they do what they do, a handy checklist. Or Bingo card.
I give you…a guide to press transphobia.
The lie direct
It begins with the lie direct: the statement, as fact, that a thing that is definitely untrue is true. There’s a lot of it about. Whether it is national papers claiming, falsely that a gender recognition certificate (grc) is necessary for trans women prisoners to move to the female estate: or contrariwise, that a grc means they MUST be moved.
Or exaggerated figures about the cost to the NHS of trans medical support.
There’s a lot of it about…
Well, someone said it
Sometimes, though, they don’t actually need to lie outright. Because someone somewhere said it. So that makes it sorta true. Remember how Ian Huntley was planning to transition? Yeah: me, too. The entirety of that moral panic began with a two page piece in the Star. That, in turn, was based on a claim by “sources”. One single sentence quote.
That set off something like two years of repetition of that untruth, across multiple media, ending only when Huntley sued the Star for libel. But hey! It SOUNDS plausible. And it made good headlines.
It’s close enough
Even when someone didn’t say a thing, people complaining about inaccuracy have been rebuffed, recently, by multiple organisations on the grounds that they may not have said it, but… it’s near enough to the thing they would have said. Or it’s what the public already believe on a subject.
So inventing fictive quotes to stand up the untruth is perfectly acceptable.
It’s only an opinion
Besides, a great deal of anti-trans content turns up regularly in opinion pieces. Question this and you will be told, over and over, that it is “just” an opinion and people are entitled to opinions.
This outwardly plausible defence of the humble Commentator falls down when you realise that no distinction is made between actual opinion (“Corbyn was great/a disaster”) and basic untruths presented as fact (“the moon is made of green cheese”).
On any rational scale, these are two very different things. Not, though, according to the UK’s Fourth Estate.
There’s no such thing as “Transphobia”…
Have you noticed how often “transphobia” gets put into “scare quotes”. Now sometimes this is justified, because the assertion that a thing is transphobic is, at base, just that: an assertion. So strictly speaking, the quote marks are correct. But note what they do NOT quote mark.
The claim, for example, that women have this or that concern about trans rights, often presented as fact, and almost always omitting the key word “some”. Yes: SOME women have negative views on trans people. Many — most — do not.
While you’re here, it is worth checking out a community definition of what transphobia is.
…Transgenderism, on the other hand
While transphobia is regularly quote marked, you may notice that phrases like “Trans Rights Activists” and “transgenderism” mostly aren’t. This is all part of a world view that claims trans people are pushing some sort of dread ideology on the everyone else (as opposed to just wanting decent treatment by society).
And perish the thought they might label anti-trans campaigners as ideologically motivated!
It also goes to a sub-tendency that demonises anyone calling for basic justice for trans people and seeks to divide us into “good” trans, people who support the hate-us quo and are deserving of publication as opposed to those “bad” uppity tranz, who dare question it.
And of course, TRA, the acronym, is deliberately designed to evoke images of MRA’s.
…perish the thought they might label anti-trans campaigners as ideologically motivated!
The Transgender Agenda
Closely related to the previous. This is the claim that any innovation around anything to do with gender is promoted by trans folk as opposed to just being, yanno, a natural progression promoted for reasons of gender equality or economics.
See multiple stories about single sex uniforms in the police or unisex loos, none of which are especially a trans thing, but are regularly described as such.
Because seeing two sides to everything is so moderate and so British. 99% of scientists say we are all going to burn in a climate change hell. But for balance, let’s pit Nobel Prize-winner Dame Geekgirl Jones against a wild-eyed fanatic from the flat earth society and, hey presto! Balance.
As climate change, so anything and everything trans. On the one hand, decades of medical consensus under-written by actual science. And in the very blue corner. A concerned and usually female sceptic, with a GCSE in Biology, dialling in from the 1950’s.
Note also, who gets balanced against whom. Trans people against anti-trans women, as opposed, perhaps, to anti-trans against pro-trans allies. Can they really not find women who disagree with the radical ferrets? Because there are a lot of them about: but the media don’t seem overly interested in any view that is NOT anti-trans.
But there must be debate and…oh, the arrogance! Like: sticking any random member of the trans community on a TV platform where they get three soundbites to answer some profound existential question while being subjected to a barrage of stupidity masquerading as insight is in any sense a debate.
Just imagine if we reduced all debate to such terms! It would certainly shorten legal proceedings.
“Did you do it?”
“Well, no, I…”
“And over to our totally unbiased witness who claims you did.”
Two minutes later: “So: do you find this pathetic specimen of a defendant guilty or very guilty?”
Closely allied to balance, the mainstream media insist that any failure to go along with the media framework for debate is silencing. Because there are SO MANY news pieces, articles, commentaries — and not forgetting kitchen sinks — regularly out there from trans folk. And so few major newspapers promoting the anti-trans point of view.
OK. That was sarcasm. In case you didn’t notice.
Also bear in mind that there are very, very few trans people qualified to take part in what is often quite technical debate. As a community, we are weary of the constant transphobia: and as individuals, far too many of us are near burn-out as consequence of it. Still: WE are the ones doing the silencing.
Of course, you don’t need to skew individual stories to unbalance the news. Just look at what stories get told about trans people — and which do not.
Trans murderer about to get £80k of NHS treatment? Check. Trans woman assaulted while out for a night with her boyfriend? Tumbleweed.
Ireland celebrating its fifth anniversary of reformed gender recognition in the week Equalities Minister, Liz Truss was putting the boot into UK proposals for reform? Where’s Ireland?
Whenever you see a story about a bad trans person acting badly…go read the LGBT press for all the stories NOT being covered.
Of course, the “concerns” of the anti-trans will always be news, while trans concerns get short shrift. All those stories of anti-trans campaigners who, it turns out, have committed criminal acts, sweetly offset by heart-tugging images of them with their cutest progeny.
What happened when trans people complained that an anti-trans campaigner was putting up false flag inflammatory stickers purporting to be from trans folk? Of course, it was reported as police intimidating a poor well-meaning mum of umpteen for putting up stickers backing J K Rowling.
…in one major newspaper, the ratio of pro to anti trans comment in anti-trans stories was 3 to 2. Poor but not dreadful. However, if you looked at the pro-trans points of view, only 5% came from actual trans people.
Excluded from our own narrative
Last but by no means least: research by Trans Media Watch in 2019 found that in one major newspaper, the ratio of pro to anti trans comment in anti-trans stories was 3 to 2. Poor but not dreadful.. However, if you looked at the pro-trans points of view, only 5% came from actual trans people.
Forgive my presumption, but a proportion of the time, that pro-trans comment was well-meaning but wrong: inaccurate, reinforcing negative stereotypes about trans people rather than helping.
Even where we are included, it is all too frequently in a final rebuttal par at the end. Yanno: the bit of the article the Great unwashed and semi-literate British pubic never gets as far as reading.
So there you have it. If you want to play “spot the transphobia”, there is a Bingo Card to cut out and keep. Happy hunting.