Fair and accurate media coverage really could improve the lives of transgender people like me

A recent report by Kings College London found that negative representations of trans people in the media can worsen dysphoria causing feelings of shame

Owl Fisher
Monday 19 February 2018 15:38
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It’s safe to say that although visibility has increased and more trans people are able to come out and live relatively ordinary lives, at the same time we are being targeted more than ever
It’s safe to say that although visibility has increased and more trans people are able to come out and live relatively ordinary lives, at the same time we are being targeted more than ever

Yes — this is yet another piece about transgender people. You’d be forgiven for thinking that we make up 90 per cent of the population (the reality is between 1-2 per cent). We are everywhere in the media, and not in a terribly good way lately.

Ever since the Government announced they’re considering reforming the Gender Recognition Act (2004) about six months ago a very corrosive and heated public debate in the UK about trans rights and the reality of trans people is being played out in the media, and we are the fodder. Under the act trans people will no longer need a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria from a health care professional to receive their gender recognition certificate.This means that trans people can get a new birth certificate without having to jump through hoops to prove who they are.We have seen many trans voices being heard in positive ways amidst the chaos, however much media coverage has shown trans people in an extremely negative light.

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A recent example being The Sunday Times’ harmful inaccuracies about a small charity called Mermaids, which gives life saving services to parents and their children.

It’s safe to say that although visibility has increased and more trans people are able to come out and live relatively ordinary lives, at the same time we are being targeted more than ever. This is partly due to an organised effort led by a fringe group of feminists, opposed to reform of the Gender Recognition Act, which most recently resulted in a gofundme campaign calling for the exclusion of trans women from all-women shortlists within the Labour Party.

Trans children, who deserve our support and understanding, are the target of much of the misinformation, from articles claiming the advancement of trans rights will endanger children, to articles containing misleading information about the services they receive from the NHS to people advocating for conversion therapy.

What is the impact of these attacks on us? How is this affecting our mental health? Can fair and accurate media coverage improve the lives of trans people, making our children safer and happier? Happily, the answer to the last question is yes, as a new study shows.

The research, carried out by King’s College London in partnership with All About Trans, looked at how media representation of trans people affects trans people themselves. 78 per cent thought that coverage about trans people was inaccurate and when seeing negative media coverage, 69 per cent felt unhappy, 78 per cent felt angry, 69 per cent felt bad about society, 49 per cent felt excluded and 41 per cent felt frightened.

It found that negative representations can worsen the dysphoria of trans people causing feelings of shame, making one respondent feel “like I will never be accepted in society as my true self and this hurts deeply”.

Where there is fear and misinformation, there is hate. Research published by Stonewall in January 2018 showed that two fifths of trans people (41 per cent) experienced a hate crime in the last 12 months, nearly half of trans people (48 per cent) avoid using public bathrooms, one in four (25 per cent) have experienced homelessness, two in five (40 per cent) have adjusted the way they dress out of fear of harassment or discrimination and one in eight (12 per cent) have been physically assaulted by colleagues or customers in the last year, simply for being trans.

The negative portrayal of trans people in the media is particularly worrying because so many of our children and young people who happen to be transgender try and commit suicide— nearly half (45 per cent).

However, positive media coverage, like seeing Paris Lees in Vogue or BBC 2’s Boy Meets Girl, had a positive effect on trans people. Sixty two per cent of respondents to the All About trans survey felt happy, 55 per cent felt included, and 46 per cent felt both good about society and more able to talk about their gender identity when they watched or read something about the trans experience that was truthful and fair.

The prevailing view of respondents was that trans children are at the epicentre of a media backlash and there is an urgent need to increase awareness of the issues they face and stop the tide of misinformation.

Visibility is great but not when it brings more suffering to trans children and adults.

Despite what some journalists and transphobic groups might want the public to believe, the reality is that many trans people, who make up one of the most marginalised and stigmatised groups in society, are loved and supported by people across this country who understand that there is nothing to fear.

Let’s call out the attacks and lies when we see them in our media – and applaud the positive and accurate coverage that can make such a difference to our lives.

Owl Fisher is a non-binary trans activist, writer and an advisor for All About Trans.

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