Three fundamental problems with Oprah
[EDITOR'S NOTE:] The following guest post comes to us from Kim Pearson. Kim is a founding board member and the current Executive Director of TransYouth Family Advocates. She is also the proud parent of a teenaged transgender affirmed son. Together they live and do advocacy work for gender variant children and youth in Arizona.
Anyone who knows me is aware that I am a huge fan of Oprah. I constantly express my desire to have families that are involved with TransYouth Family Advocates featured on her show or in O Magazine. I have always been confident that she would tell our stories with respect and would be attentive to providing positive portrayals of gender variant and transgender children and youth. I also hoped it would be an amazing opportunity to share the ground breaking work we are doing at TransYouth Family Advocates on behalf of these children and families. You can imagine how disappointed I was to find myself telling her producers this week that I would not be willing to go on the show and that I was not willing to recommend that other TYFA families participate either.
In my conversations with them I expressed concern over how the show was being framed, how the families would be portrayed and if the safety of the children participating was being adequately considered. After these conversations I was not confident that the producers were looking at the bigger picture of these kids and their families lives.
On Oprah.com there was an appeal to families asking them to appear on this show. I find three fundamental problems with their call for participation. The rest of this post addresses those problems.
- They asked parents:
Does your child have a gender identity disorder?
If this is how they are going to frame and reference the kids they are off to a bad start. Contrary to popular opinion, gender variant youth and adults are not confused or struggling with their identities. GID is a controversial DSM-IV diagnosis given to transgender and other gender variant people. It is controversial because it labels people (in this case, children) as 'disordered' and therefore is offensive to most if not all gender variant people. This diagnosis has been the basis for intense psychotherapy, behavior modification and even institutionalization of gender variant children. It is far more respectful and accurate for the press and media to refer to gender variant, gender atypical or transgender youth than "children with a gender identity disorder." Reference GLAAD's website for a media guide of appropriate terminology.
- They asked parents:
Do you consider yourself or your child transgendered or a transsexual?
Is the program focusing on adults or children? TransYouth Family Advocates always has concerns when the two topics are intermingled without consideration of the vast differences in the issues that face children and youth to those that face adults. I question if, in a one hour show, the journey of the adults or the children either one would be adequately explained.
They also use the term "transgendered." Again, I draw upon our friends at GLAAD to address the problem with this language.
The word transgender never needs the extraneous "ed" at the end of the word. In fact, such a construction is grammatically incorrect. Only verbs can be transformed into participles by adding "-ed" to the end of the word, and transgender is an adjective, not a verb.
Now if it seems like I am splitting hairs regarding terminology, I will point out that these small things simply illustrate that the media typically does not do their homework on this subject adequately to offer positive and complete coverage.
- They asked parents:
Have you told your loved ones about your sexuality?
Why would they use the word 'sexuality' at all? Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity/Expression are distinct realities and are not directly related. Gender variant individuals may have the same spectrum of sexual identities and attractions that non-gender variant people possess. In any case it would not be appropriate to discuss the 'sexuality' of a seven year old.
This is the second major media inquiry we have had lately and it appears that in the coming year the public will see a lot of discussion around transgender and gender variant children. It remains to be seen whether this exposure will be beneficial or harmful. I hope the children and the families who have chosen to participate do not pay too high a personal price for their willingness to educate the public about their children and themselves.
I want to take this opportunity to announce that TYFA is in development of a guide for families of gender variant children and youth called "Media - Your Child Comes First." This will be a guide to navigating media interactions for parents of gender variant and transgender youth.
I am convinced that TYFA, our allies and all GLBT organizations need to rally behind these children and families to ensure that their privacy and safety concerns are respected by the media. In this, as in other issues, we believe that taking a stand for LGBT children and youth serves the entire LGBT community.
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