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Note: the following is an archival post of my recent blog piece at Huffington Post.

Janet Mock

Janet Mock – photo by Aaron Tredwell (source: http://janetmock.com/janet-mock-bio/photos/)

Earlier this week, Piers Morgan interviewed transgender advocate Janet Mock for his CNN show, focusing on her new book, Redefining Realness.  The interview quickly set off a critical response on social media as Morgan focused his questions on Mock’s transition history and the moment she came out to her partner as transgender.  The captioning on the program (and Piers Morgan’s tweet to promote the interview) referred to her as formerly being a “boy,” and Morgan himself used similar language throughout the interview.  He also referred to Mock’s male-typical birth name several times.

When I watched the interview, it felt like the questions towards the beginning of the interview, focusing on Mock’s gender expression through adolescence, were leading specifically towards one of the media’s favorite tropes regarding trans women: surgical status.  When Morgan actually asked the question, it came out about as awkwardly as one could imagine: Read the rest of this entry »

Note: This post also appears at Autostraddle.

“To the members of the press, I say shame. Shame on all of you.”

These were the words of Michael Singleton, the coroner assigned to the case of Lucy Meadows, the British school teacher who took her own life shortly after her gender transition made national gossip headlines in the UK earlier this year.

As I previously wrote, in late 2012, St. Mary Magdalen’s School informed Lucy’s students that Lucy, who had previously lived outwardly as a man, would return after the winter break as a woman. And although this story is something that has virtually no news value whatsoever for people who aren’t directly connected to Lucy’s classroom, for some reason a series of sensationalized stories on the subject appeared in the British press; this started with a story in the local Accrington Observer, featuring a scowling picture of the parents of one of Lucy’s students, and then spiraled up to the UK national press, including two articles that appeared in the Daily Mail tabloid.

The most over the top of these was an opinion column from shock jock commentator Richard Littlejohn titled “[S]he’s not only in the wrong body… [s]he’s in the wrong job” that implied Lucy should be fired or moved to another school. The article also included pre-transition pictures of Lucy with her then-wife; in clear breach of any kind of journalistic standards, these pictures were directly lifted from Facebook.

Lucy chose to end her life in March of this year.

While we can never be certain exactly what role the harassment she faced from the press played in that decision, it is clear that Lucy bitterly resented the press intrusion into her life, and it is clear that the behavior was entirely inappropriate. Lucy did file a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) about the Littlejohn column; it took two months for the process to be resolved and in the end the Daily Mail offered nothing more than to simply take the story down from its website. That was about a week before Lucy’s death.

The coroner Singleton described the gesture as merely tokenistic, stating, “It seems to be that nothing has been learned from the Leveson inquiry.” It was during the Trans Media Watch presentation to the Leveson inquiry that it became widely public that the British press has gone so far as open up the lives of trans children for public ridicule and abuse.

It is heartening to see that Singleton was willing to come out and make such a strong statement to the UK press (and elsewhere, by extension) that the harassment and abuse of trans people’s lives and stories needs to end. Let us all remember Lucy’s story as we demand that the press starts to listen.

(Edit: It’s also worth noting that the Daily Mail has declined to publish anything on this story now that the role of the press has come into question. In other words, they were eager to inject themselves into the story when it was utterly unimportant to people who weren’t directly involved, but when it actually became a national issue– regarding the press involvement in people’s personal lives– that’s exactly the point at which the Daily Mail refuses to discuss the issue further.

Also check here for some right-wing dribble attempting to defend the press behavior in this case.)

Note: This is an archival post of a recent column at Autostraddle.

Last Monday, March 25, about three hundred people gathered outside of the offices of the Daily Mail in Kensington, London to hold a vigil in honor of Lucy Meadows, a British school teacher who was found dead at her home about a week earlier. The vigil was held at the Daily Mail headquarters in silent protest of how the UK tabloid (and other elements of the British press) had strewn details of a small-town teacher’s personal life across national headlines – likely playing a role in her apparent suicide. Many of those same members of the press hardly flinched as they continued disrespecting Meadows, even in reporting her death.

On December 19, 2012, the story appeared in the local Accrington Observer that Lucy Meadows, who had formerly lived as a man, would be returning to her teaching duties at St. Mary Magdalen’s School after Christmas break now living as a woman. The story incorrectly gendered Meadows as male throughout and featured a scowling picture of Wayne Cowie, a parent of one Meadow’s pupils, holding a copy of a letter to parents informing them of Meadows gender transition. Mr. Cowie was quoted speaking about his son, “He has had this teacher for three years. All of a sudden [she] is going to be coming to school after Christmas as a woman.” He added, “They are too young to be dealing with that.”

I would argue that children are perfectly capable of dealing with the issue of gender transition; my experience is that beyond perhaps vague curiosity, they usually don’t care very much (if at all). This naturally leads us to a more immediate question: why would anyone, unless perhaps they are directly connected to the school, care about this story? I have difficulty seeing how this story is worthy of any news coverage, even at the local level.

Of course, the press has every right to ask questions when it has some kind of (even broadly-defined) relation to the public interest. Usually that would mean asking questions of public figures or focusing on issues that affect a significant number of people. Lucy Meadows is not a public figure and her gender transition had a direct impact on very few people.

The manner in which the press was obviously bottom-feeding to dig up dirt in this case was a bit unreal. Read the rest of this entry »

Update: Please sign the petition here calling for Richard Littlejohn to be sacked from his column at the Daily Mail.

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A tragic story emerged today from Accrington, a small town in Lancanshire, England. This week, grade school pupils from St. Mary Magdalen’s Church of England Primary School were informed that their teacher Lucy Meadows had died.

As heartbreaking as that must be for the children, the fact that their teacher was almost certainly bullied to suicide by the British Press will probably only make things more difficult.

The background to the story is that Meadows, a trans woman, had previously been living and teaching as a man. Her students had been informed that following winter break, she would be returning to teach as a woman.

From my own experience, I can say this really isn’t that big of a deal. Children are smart, they’re adaptable, and they can work these things out.

Unfortunately, adults can sometimes be more complicated.

Of course, we all know from the recent Leveson inquiry as well as the Julie Burchill ordeal, the British Press has seemingly raised hateful transphobic and transmisogynistic journalism almost to the level of a twisted art form.

The comments from Richard Littlejohn in a Daily Mail column from Dec. 20, 2012 are a perfect example of this sick obsession that more than a few in the British Press seem to have with trans people.

For some inexplicable reason, Littlejohn seems to have believed that the gender transition of a small-town teacher in England should be UK National News headlines. So he gathered a few quotes from parents (probably taken at least somewhat out of context), prying into the business of some small town he’s likely never even visited before, just to shove this young woman’s personal life into the spotlight and ridicule her with public abuse.

And abuse he gave, including the fact that he consistently misguiders Meadows, refers to her by her previous male-typical name, and includes private photos– including a shot from her wedding for good measure.

Littlejohn begins the article stating he has no problems with NHS funding for gender confirmation surgery, apparently attempting to suggest he has no problem with trans people. He goes on to make the problems he has very clear; for a rough jist of the article (archived above):

Schoolteacher [birth name deleted], 32, says he always knew he was born into the wrong sex. Yet he married and fathered a child, now aged three. It was only fairly recently that he decided to go public with his inner turmoil.

The first indications came when he began growing his cropped hair and dyeing it purple. He started turning up for class wearing pink nail varnish and sparkly headbands.

His pupils at St Mary Magdalen’s Church of England Primary School in Accrington, Lancs, couldn’t help noticing. A crayon drawing of Mr Upton by a Year 6 pupil on the school’s website shows him with long hair swept back over his shoulders.

This week, the school’s 169 pupils, aged between seven and 11, were informed class-by-class that from now on, ‘Sir’ would be ‘Miss’.

So that’s all right, then. From now on, kiddies, Mr Upton will be known as Miss Lucy Meadows.

What are you staring at, Johnny? Move along, nothing to see here. Get on with your spelling test. Today’s word is ‘transitioning’.

But the real kicker of course comes from the following entirely ironic and hypocritical statements:

But has anyone stopped for a moment to think of the devastating effect all this is having on those who really matter? Children as young as seven aren’t equipped to compute this kind of information.

Why should they be forced to deal with the news that a male teacher they have always known as Mr Upton will henceforth be a woman called Miss Meadows?

So there you have it folks, Richard Littlejohn doesn’t have any problem with trans people… he’s just worried about the children.

Of course, what about the challenges of a young child who has to go through the experience of seeing a teacher that they admire being dragged through the mud in the National press? What about the moment when they learn that their teacher won’t be coming in to lead class after all, as she has likely committed suicide as a result of that experience? (The fact that the original article attacking Lucy Meadows has now been scrubbed from the Daily Mail site speaks volumes).

Of course it’s all about the children, right Richard Littlejohn? If that’s the case, then let’s see you do the best, most responsible thing for them that you could possibly do: publicly apologize and resign from your column at the Daily Mail immediately.

Recently, I commented on a series of ads featuring trans women characters from the Swedish corporation IKEA. There I commented that two of the three ads they created fell simplistically into the realm of trans-misogynistic tropes and weren’t really all that clever on the whole. The humor of the Thai language ad, for which IKEA has since publicly apologized, in particular boils down to a man discovering that the woman he is with is trans and him literally running the other way in response.

However, I stated there that I could probably go along with some of the intended humor in those ads, if they didn’t just so neatly boil down to classic anti-trans woman tropes. In that vein, I was somewhat intrigued when I saw the following skit from last week’s Saturday Night Live, featuring Justin Timberlake.

Briefly recounting for anyone who might not be able to view the video, it’s basically a film preview style parody of dime-a-dozen romantic comedies in which Timberlake’s character falls in love with a non-op or pre-op trans woman (Melanie, in the stereotyped role of “an adorable brunette”). Throughout most of the 1:45 minute preview, Timberlake’s character dramatizes an internal struggle with the idea of dating a woman with a penis, while his friend at work (in the role of “a confused black friend”) comments repeated variations on, “Wait, what, she’s got a d***?” to constant laugh track response. The character intimating the Melanie’s father, in a stylized version of Eugene Levy, states, “Well sweetheart, if he can’t accept all of you, he doesn’t deserve any of you.”

Halfway through the preview, Timberlake’s character shows up outside the woman’s apartment screaming, “Melanie, I don’t care! Come on! let me in.” The title of the film, “She’s got a D!%k,” is announced right at the end, followed by the “confused black friend” character finally commenting, “can I see it?”

Screen shot from SNL "Romantic Comedy"

That looks kinda fun

Okay, first of all, the repeated laugh track harping in response to bleeped out variations of “she has a dick” from the Confused Black Friend (CBF) character is aggravating from the start and doesn’t let up even at the very end. Read the rest of this entry »

A Thai trans rights group, Thai Transgender Alliance, has recently stated its objections in an open letter about a Thai-language advertisement from the Swedish furniture manufacturer IKEA.

The ad, seen below, features a thai trans woman who is talking with a man (a date or her boyfriend, by all appearances) in an IKEA store. When the woman notices an item on sale, she suddenly exclaims “Hooo… sale” in a deeper voice, intended to reveal her status as trans. The man responds by giving her a bizarre look, then at the end of the commercial he literally runs the other way while she is picking up furniture to buy (the fact that she picks up three presumably heavy boxes also seems to be an attempt to suggest, “she’s really a man!”). The title of the video, translated as “Forgot to Deceive,” implies that she is intended to represent a “disguised man,” falling squarely into the classic deceitful trans woman trope.

In their open letter, Thai Transgender Alliance stated that

The MTF transgender/transwomen character is openly mocked as being “deceitful” … The transgender content of the advertisement is negative and stereotypical in nature, perpetuating misunderstanding transgenderism as human sexuality for “deceitful and deviant lifestyle”.

This plays into the disclosure myth that has been used to victim-blame trans women who have been the targets of abuse and violence from cis men.

The ad was played on Bangkok’s sky train system for about two weeks at the beginning of the year.

However, this is not the first time trans-misogyny has appeared in an IKEA ad. The following was an ad that ran in France back in 2006. It shows a woman putting on make-up, apparently preparing for an evening out. As the woman heads out the door, she hits her crotch on a table, obviously causing her a great deal of pain.

Read the rest of this entry »

My recent article at Pretty Queer focuses on leadership, politics and support for trans women within the trans community:

I want to preface the comments I’m about to make by acknowledging that our trans community (communitIES is really what I should say) is reeling from some events over the last couple of months. I think many of us are heartbroken, as we should be, over a series of murders of young trans women of color across the U.S. in the last month followed by the recent development that CeCe McDonald had few better legal options than to plead to 2nd degree manslaughter with a recommended 41-month sentence.

To make matters worse, the aftermath of the murders mentioned above recall the usual patterns of police dismissal and blatant disrespect from the media for the victims of racism and trans-misogyny. It is in this context that I think a lot of us feel, in addition to grief and frustration, plenty of doubt and uncertainty about where to head next. The solutions are not always clear, and I think we must avoid the trap of looking for easy answers.

In the aftermath of CeCe’s plea bargain, PrettyQueer’s Tom Léger conducted an interview with Dean Spade, a well-known trans activist and Assistant Professor of Law at a Seattle law school. I’ll note from the outset that criticisms of Dean have been surfacing in recent years; the criticisms primarily focus on his relationship (both professionally speaking and as an activist) with trans women.

For the rest, check out the full article at Pretty Queer here.

The last couple of months have been really busy so I’ve fallen behind on blogging, but I wanted to quickly revisit a story from March that I have been meaning to comment on for a while.

Screenshot from ABC 7 broadcast

Back in mid-March, stories began to appear in the Orange County local press about Perla Serrano, a 51-year old trans woman who allegedly committed identity theft over a thirteen year period against another Southern California woman.

These stories linked above contain many of the sadly not-unexpected flaws of mainstream media coverage of trans issues and identities– especially common in local news sources– specifically, they misgender Perla throughout, never even acknowledging the fact that she clearly identifies as a woman and lives her life accordingly. However, unlike some particularly awful local news outlets, they at least avoid the route of intentionally sensationalizing the story or playing it off for cheap laughs.

Unfortunately, another outlet was even less responsible, and several larger media outlets picked up on the story over the next few days and chose the path of blatant ridicule.

The Los Angeles local KTLA 5 broadcast (which was apparently rebroadcasted outside the Southern California area) opens with the sensationalizing line,

If you think identity theft is a drag, hear this: a bizarre case of stolen identity. A man is arrested after masquerading as his female victim for thirteen years in an elaborate plot to steal her identity and drain her bank account.

Screenshot from ABC 7 broadcast

If Perla Serrano did indeed commit identity theft, then obviously that is a serious crime. That having been said, do you know what’s actually bizarre about this? The accusation that Serrano would transition to living as a woman purely for the purposes of obtaining free healthcare. That is completely bizarre. And utterly stupid considering the obvious fact that if she had no interest in living as a woman in the first place, she could have simply chosen some man’s identity to steal. Why would anyone, no matter how desperate, go through the trouble of transitioning their body merely to obtain healthcare by posing within the binary gender role with which they do not genuinely identify?

Then of course there is the childish reference to `drag’ in the opening sentence. The story continues with reporter `on the beat’ Chip Yost who continues the masquerade by showing pictures of Perla while repeatedly referring to her as a `man.’ The story ends with Yost’s snarky account of Perla’s arrest:

The deputy confronted Serrano, saying he knew Serrano was a man, but Serrano… denied it, insisting she was a woman. That issue was finally settled during the booking process… [after which] Serrano was ultimately placed– in the men’s prison. [emphasis added]

Well of course she denied that she was a man, since she is a woman. Further, the fact is that trans women arrested in the U.S. are usually unjustly placed in the men’s prison so that really doesn’t prove much of anything.

The transphobic news charade continued from this point with Latino Fox News who opened their story with the idiotic line, “Identity theft can be a real drag,” and even the Huffington Post got in on the fun with it’s own report filed under “Weird News.”

Of course, there’s nothing especially `weird’ about a woman posing as another woman to obtain healthcare. It’s wrong of course, but it’s not weird (and I do want to make clear that the victim of Perla’s alleged identity theft deserves full financial and legal restitution for any damages that might have been incurred).

However, stepping beyond the analysis of the transphobic media coverage itself, I think this issue raises another question about why this type of derision would be directed against a most likely impoverished trans woman of color in the first place. Of course, it’s nothing unusual for local media outlets across the United States to belittle trans women by referring to them with slurs and transmisogynistic language– even when reporting that they have been murdered. This isn’t even the worst case. But there’s something particularly ridiculous in the attempt to deny that Perla Serrano even genuinely identifies as a woman in the first place.

For one thing, I think most of us can look at Perla’s image and tell she wasn’t “acting as a woman to get healthcare.” Even someone who is fairly ignorant of trans issues should be able to recognize that she isn’t simply putting on a costume to bilk some healthcare out of the system.

In fact, I don’t think it is Perla who is putting on a costume in this instance; rather it is the privatized U.S. healthcare system that is doing so. The fact that the healthcare system in the United States is gradually spinning out of control has become widely recognized in the past decade or so by many Americans outside the throes of rightwing or libertarian ideologies– both of which are rather up-front about the fact that they have little interest in dealing with real world social problems anyways.

The problems with the system are varied and complex, but the primary issues come down to the fact that privatized healthcare apparently does nothing to reduce costs and that having multiple parties to finance care results in a bloated bureaucracy and massive inefficiencies. Further the fact that doctors in the U.S. are generally paid on a fee structure rather than a salary presents a rather obvious incentive for doctors to order unnecessary tests and lab work, resulting in significant waste and abuse (and American doctors, particularly specialists, who are overpaid in comparison to their European counterparts).

Indeed, studies have shown that the ballooning cost of healthcare will exceed the U.S. budget itself within only a couple of decades.

Given this reality, the powerful lobby groups and insurance industry executives who profit the most from the current situation are presented with a conundrum: how to prop up a system that not only consistently wreaks havoc in the lives of ordinary Americans while propping up profits for a handful of elites, but is actually destined to break the back of the American economy itself?

The answer is of course that at least a significant portion of the population must be duped into actually believing that the system is fair. And that’s where a story like Perla Serrano’s comes to clash with the picture that elites who profit from the system desire to paint. The fact is that in Canada or Japan or elsewhere in the industrialized world Perla would not have needed to commit fraud just to get basic healthcare (which is apparently what she obtained). And that is the real story in this news piece, not her trans status.

In other words, Perla’s arrest and the fact that she felt she had little choice but to commit fraud in order to obtain healthcare makes the system look bad. Fortunately for the corrupt healthcare system and its supporters, the fact that Perla is a trans woman gives them an opportunity to flip the script: instead of presenting a story in which Perla’s situation makes the healthcare system look like a clown, they rely on transphobia and transmisogyny in a disgusting attempt to paint Perla as a clown.

In fact, when we really think about the situation, the fraud allegedly committed by Perla simply mirrors the fraud of a doctor who orders a lab test for you when they know damn well that you don’t need that test. Of course the fees that the doctor would be fraudulently obtaining are spread out among a larger group of people; however, apart from that I don’t see much of a difference. Perla simply took on a corrupt behavior in order make her way in an deeply corrupted system.

And further, and this would be my main point, I think the belief that a health care system that primarily works for those who can afford to buy into it is moral or just almost requires this kind of dehumanization of the poor and others who are left behind in order to provide some semblance of psychological justification to the wealthy and to society as a whole.

So in the end, Perla Serrano’s case is just one more indication that the U.S. healthcare system is in desperate need of a major overhaul. Sadly, President Obama entered the White House with a decisive mandate to reform the system, however, assuming his health care plan even survives a late June decision from a right-leaning Supreme Court, it may well be that he blew the opportunity by relying on reforms that are simply inadequate to deal with the underlying problems.

Update April 7: I didn’t get a chance to add this until now, but a couple of days ago I was glad to see that Laverne Cox wrote a piece on Huffington Post that included a call-out on the disrespectful reporting on Coko William’s death by Detroit’s local Fox News.

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Update April 4, 4:00 AM: I propose we start a twitter campaign criticizing the Fox affiliate station for putting together this disrespectful and transphobic report on Coko’s murder.

Please tweet to FOX 2 News (https://twitter.com/#!/FOX2News) your criticisms and questions, and be sure to use the hashtag: #RespectCoko

Please be polite but firm in your critique. One suggested tweet:

Your report on trans woman Coko William’s murder was transphobic and extremely offensive. @FOX2News apologize now! #RespectCoko

(Pointer: with kind of campaign, it’s better to use the ‘manual’ RT (copy and paste someone’s tweet into your own) rather than the ‘automatic’ RT. The first will show up in the twitter feed of Fox news while the second won’t necessarily.)

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Update April 4, 3:30 AM: The trans woman who was murdered yesterday in East Detroit was Coko Williams. A friend described her thusly:

“She was really a sweet, quiet girl,” said Dada, who had known Williams for the past 15 years and told BTL that she sometimes worked as a hair stylist. “She was never shady or nasty. She wasn’t that type of girl at all. She was always respectful of herself and to other people. It’s sad for her to go out the way she did.”

Her death has also been reported on tumblr.

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Last night a trans woman, likely possibly a sex worker [let me emphasize whether she was engaged in sex work or not is not clear], was murdered in a Detroit east side neighborhood. However, instead of presenting her death as a loss, local Detroit’s Fox affiliate news station chose the path of blatant disrespect and transmisogyny.

The report begins with a comment from the studio, “one person is dead after a shooting on Detroit’s East side.” They then turn to Al Allen reporting from the neighborhood where the murder took place. Strangely though, we don’t hear anything further about the murder until the last minute of the report. Instead, Allen reports,

Here along Woodward Avenue on Parkhurst … neighbors are telling Fox News crime is killing their neighborhood. They say they’ve asked for help from the city and the police countless times, but they say no one will listen.

That’s right: in a report about a human being who has recently died, the Fox local station appropriately begins the story by expressing empathy with the setting in which the person’s body was discovered.

They proceed by interviewing an anonymous 25-year neighborhood resident who holds up a picture of some garbage he once found on the ground as evidence that, as Allen says, “the neighborhood is choking on prostitution, drugs and violent crime.” The picture displayed features some “liquor, condoms, drugs and spent bullet casings.”

They proceed to interview a couple more residents who say similar things, then, applying the delicate human touch, Allen comments that at night the neighborhood, “transforms to a haven for prostitution like bees around honey.”

At about the 1:30 mark of a 2:30 minute report, they find a moment to comment on the woman who has just died, of course, misgendering her for good measure:

Neighbors say a male prostitute, killed over night, throat slashed, then shot to death. The second homicide in less than six months.

Then they drop the bombshell, interviewing neighborhood resident Durrail Sanders, who comments,

They’re dealing with another guy and the guy just happens to figure out that’s a man, and, you know, of course, something’s gonna happen.

Wow. So trans women sex workers get shot, cause that’s just what happens to trans women sex workers, huh?

By including this sensationalistic, extremely transmisogynistic comment in their report, Fox is promoting the idea that the woman was killed in response to the revelation of her trans status. However, considering that the woman was shot with a gun (by someone who bothers to carry around a gun in the first place) kind of suggests otherwise. That’s not exactly a conclusion that requires heavy sleuthing.

Then, perhaps attempting to display some last minute shed of integrity, Al Allen makes a final comment suggesting that it might have been robbery after all.

It’s really unfortunate that so many news outlets across the United States still don’t take the half-hour’s worth of work that is required to figure out how to report on trans people in a responsible manner. The Associated Press has adopted clear guidelines for dealing with these issues, which are presented on GLAAD’s website.

I would encourage people to contact the Detroit Fox affiliate and politely but firmly describe why this media report is so offensive, and encourage them to adopt the standards set out by the Associated Press. Alternately, Facebook users may leave comments directly on the story itself.

Finally, at the very end, Fox bothers to mention the one clue they have regarding the identity of the murderer: witnesses say the suspect escaped in a gold-colored car.

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