The Evolution of Transgender Media Coverage

By Staff

The transgender narrative is well known, thanks to films like Boys Don’t Cry and Transamerica. But the problem, as Extra! reportsin 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

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