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The Harm of Trans Misrepresentation

Published: 30 October 2018 Tags: By James Harris

The media has a long, complicated relationship with LGBT communities. Whether on T.V., in film, in books or on the news it has been both an ally and opponent to LGBT rights throughout recent decades. This Halloween we look at the real life spooky story of trans misrepresentation in the media- and the true life impact this has on trans communities.

The media certainly isn’t all so scary. Many journalists fight for what is right and spread the truth regardless of how well it sells. Yet still some sections of the tabloid media can sensationalise, shock, and exaggerate. Even today our communities still struggle against media misrepresentation and the consequences that come from it. Trans and non-binary people in particular are still unfairly represented in damaging ways which contributes towards negative public perception, and therefore hinders trans acceptance.

Recent statistics show a worrying surge in anti-trans hate crime. Though all categories of hate crime have seen an increase, trans hate crimes have shown a greater increase than most (1/3 up from last year) and are more likely to be violent offences. This strongly indicates a significant increase in anti-trans attitudes.

A spokesperson for Gendered Intelligence said:

“It is extremely alarming to learn that anti-transgender hate crime has increased by almost a third since last year, and almost doubled since 2015-16. We feel that over the past year the mainstream media has contributed to a hostile environment for trans people, and trans women in particular, that may have emboldened those who have committed these crimes.”

Journalist Owen Jones raises awareness on social media:

“A relentless media campaign against trans people, relentlessly demonising them, has left trans people distressed, hurt and afraid.”

Just two years ago, The Sun and Daily Mail were cited in a report on hate speech and discrimination, accusing them of “unscrupulous press reporting” regarding LGBT communities. This is exemplified in the tragic suicide of trans schoolteacher Lucy Meadows, who was cruelly outed by the Daily Mail newspaper in an article headlined: “He’s not only in the wrong body…he’s in the wrong job”. This both invalidated her trans identity by using a male pronoun, and spread the pernicious myth that trans people shouldn’t be around children. She had suffered what campaigners at Trans Media Watch called “a huge amount of monstering and harassment”, most likely as a direct result of the negative media attention.

Even otherwise thoughtful T.V. dramas, such as the recent Netflix original ‘Dark’, feature reinforcements of harmful trans stereotypes. In one scene a trans woman is shown living alone at the edge of town in a caravan, earning a living as a prostitute taking spiteful pleasure in provoking the wife of one of her male clients. Whether consciously or not this wrongfully represents trans women as lonely, embittered individuals outcast from society and implies that any sexual desire towards trans people is somehow deviant. This further impacts upon the negative perception and treatment of trans people.

Implications of degeneracy are glaringly apparent, but perhaps the most damaging influence of such representations is the idea that you cannot be trans and happy. If a trans person is unhappy being trans, it’s not because their trans identity is incompatible with their wellbeing - it’s because a prejudiced, ignorant society won’t let them be. If trans people are marginalised it’s not necessarily through choice, but because rigid, binary gender norms leave no room for them to be themselves in.

Although representation of lesbian and gay people has improved significantly over the years - now portrayed in a wide range of ways that more accurately reflect the depth and complexity of their individual experiences - bisexuality and pansexuality are still ridiculed, ignored and not taken seriously, or overly-sexualised and fetishised for heterosexual male gratification. When discussing gay men, paranoid – or even deliberately slanderous – connotations of paedophilia still persist.

Despite the comparative acceptance of those of us elsewhere on the LGBT spectrum, trans and non-binary acceptance lags woefully behind. Although significant progress has been made for the LGBT community as a whole, it’s important to remember that not everyone in our community is equally accepted. Some of us are struggling more and therefore need more support.

The effect the media can have on public perception should not be understated. We are confronted with endless forms of written and visual information on a daily basis, some of it fed to us by those with agendas counter to our interests and social justice. It cannot be avoided, unless you plan to flee to the hills and live off the grid. We are immersed in it so thoroughly, sometimes we aren’t even aware we are being influenced by it.

The only difference between a trans or non-binary person and anyone else is that their gender identity or gender expression differs from the one in which they were assigned at birth. In short, they remain true to themselves in a way that causes no harm to themselves or others, despite being ridiculed and demonised for it. How can this do anything other than inspire compassion and respect?