The Evolution of Transgender Media Coverage

| 3/27/2008 5:11:16 PM

The transgender narrative is well known, thanks to films like Boys Don’t Cry and Transamerica. But the problem, as Extra! reports in an analysis of transgender coverage over the past few years, is the idea that a single “transgender narrative” exists.

The narrative is by now quite familiar: A somewhat prominent white, middle-to-upper-class man comes out as a transgender woman, her long history of feeling “trapped in the wrong body” is detailed, and her struggles and surgeries are documented, as are the struggles of those around her to understand and embrace her change.

The Extra! report also seizes upon another shortcoming of media attention: that many reporters and television reporters obsess over a person’s “genital status,” reducing their transgender guests to sideshow surgical curiosities. Larry King is a notable perpetrator of such invasive questions—because, he explained to one guest, “we’re all fascinated with what happens.” 

People may be curious, Extra! acknowledges, but “there are very few instances in which someone’s genital status or sex life would actually be pertinent to a news story, and the simple fact of being transgender is not one of them.” Thankfully, some news outlets are beginning to understand that. Both the Associated Press and the New York Times style guides now dictate that reporters should refer to transgender subjects using a person’s preferred name and pronoun, rather than relying on anatomical or biological status.

An excellent ColorLines piece, "Becoming a Black Man," points the way toward better coverage by profiling transgender people within power matrices of gender, race, and class, moving beyond the traditional focus of the the male/female binary.

Lisa Gulya

3/29/2008 11:21:54 PM

It seems like people have a deep need to categorize each other. Even within the transgender community there are long discussions about the differences between transsexuals, transvestites, cross dressers and others on the gender spectrum. Perhaps it is human nature that we struggle with the complexity of an individual, and seek to simplify who they are into easy to understand categories? Hugs Vanessa

3/27/2008 6:30:57 PM

Let us not confuse by unfair association those who have medical issues… Every ten minutes a child is born, 1/2500, in which the doctor cannot determine the sex, or gender. This is not talking about homosexuality, but tragically a congenital condition of birth which can be caused by endocrine agents and chemicals. These children are Intersex; they are born into a life of not male or female. Likewise in similar fashion the Transsexual is identified with a Bioneurological congenital condition, and they too are locked into something not quite so clearly defined as male, or female. The best we can do is live as close to what we seem to believe we are. That may preclude the wants, and often ignorant and bigoted beliefs of others. In what case do we ignore this issue and abandon the children who now cannot hide? How can anyone continue in hate and prejudice so as to deny simple equality and justice? It is either time for change and understanding, or simply wheedle out the transgender element as inhuman and adopt the final solution as Hitler visualized? Not an easy thing to resolve, but one that is present and will not go away. I can appreciate another’s opinion, and the freedom to express same, but I would hope they would be with regard to the children, teens, and emerging adults, and all who are not so fortunate to have been born by someone’s idea of “normal.” Yet as a Conservative, Christian, Parent, and “Transsexual”, law should be equal for everyone, or it is not fit for anyone. With that said, wouldn't the issues of medical access, bigotry, and other more specific social issues be worth reporting, rather than the typical sensationalism and freak show trash?

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