Alex Blaze

Media still has a ways to go in reporting on transgender people

Filed By Alex Blaze | November 02, 2010 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, Transgender & Intersex
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Updated below the jump.

I was just going to post on a case of police brutality against a transgender resident of Portland, Oregon, police-brutality.jpgbut once again the media is so not up to speed on these issues that it's hard to tell what even happened. Here's The Oregonian:

A transgender driver who claims a Portland police officer grabbed her breasts and genitalia during a search instead of waiting for a female cop to arrive is suing the city for more than $200,000.

The suit states that Chlole Lucero, 27, "is male in outward appearance" but notes that her driver's license identifies her as female. The suit claims the officer was aware of this designation.

So is the plaintiff a trans man who hasn't had his documentation or name officially changed? Or is the plaintiff a trans woman who knows she doesn't pass? That's an important distinction, especially when the suit is saying the plaintiff wanted to be searched by a female officer and is accusing the police officer (Kevin Macho... only in the city that gave us "Beau Breedlove") of sexual aggression.

The journalist used female pronouns to refer to Lucero, but there's no reason to believe she got it right, especially when she and her editors referred to the plaintiff as "Chlole" in the second paragraph and as "Chloe" afterwards (not saying whether that's the plaintiff's birth name or current name). A gay publisher quoted towards the bottom uses "she," but the article doesn't say that he knows the victim or is familiar with the case and maybe he was just using the same pronouns the interviewing journalist was using.

I've posted about how journalists just don't know what they're doing sometimes before when it comes to stories involving transgender people (especially non-famous transgender people). It's not just about respect, it's about presenting the facts of a story in a way that readers know what went on instead of being left to imagine for themselves.

Like that story earlier this year of transgender people of unknown gender going topless at Rehoboth Beach and being told to cover up, media coverage and punditry that follow usually don't interview the people involved in these stories and just regurgitate the facts from the original media source. If the first story isn't right, it's probably not going to be corrected by other journalists.

The Oregonian is the only publication covering this story with original journalism, so there's no way to know what actually happened or even what the people involved are saying happened.

So I'm not writing about police brutality today and about the silliness of demanding a cop be of the same gender of citizen being searched instead of demanding accountability for inappropriate police behavior, which there usually isn't much of. Basing everything on the gender of the people involved in the search assumes that all police officers are 100% heterosexual, that straight men and women can't sexually abuse and humiliate members of their own sex, that sexual abuse and humiliation is based on sexual attraction, and that everyone identifies as either a man or a woman and their appearances and paperwork all match up.

I get mad enough at people punditing off false information, which usually leads to wild conclusions, so I'm just not going to say anything here. But it doesn't help that the police spokesperson The Oregonian reached out to for comment seems to have referred to the plaintiff as "it."

Update: I just got off the phone with GLAAD. They talked to the reporter who said that she couldn't get interviews with either the plaintiff or her attorney, and that the suit itself mentions a name change from a male first name to the female first name Chloe. So there we go.


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Thank you Alex... the madness continues.

How about this story reported on in Bilerico.
http://www.bilerico.com/2010/10/lapd_looking_for_suspect_in_brutal_beating_of_tran.php

Try listening to the reporter from KTLA and figure out who the hell the attacked person in the story actually was?!

You can hear their brains sputtering trying to wrap their minds around what they're saying. In the past few days, I've now seen a number of LGBT sources who are saying it was a trans man who was attacked based on the farblondget reporting of this story!

Then you have the highly publicized case of the civil rights attorney in London (a trans woman) who was pushed in front of a train in the London Underground last week. The misgendering was and brain sputtering was epidemic, including in outlets like The Guardian.

Finally, I wrote a similar blog piece about this issue concerning the murder of trans woman Toni Alston in Charlotte (one of the most poorly covered Trans/Queer murders of this past year). The Charlotte Observer (and what few LGBT publications quoted them) got it aaaaall wrong.

http://skipthemakeup.blogspot.com/2010/04/journalistic-art-of-total-obfuscation.html

Quite frankly, I think the AP Style book needs an update that states;
For Transgender people, unless verified by person note in article, use gender nuteral pronoun's. Use the first initials and last name only

That soloves a lot of the issues. It may dampen tragedies, but it would respect the person's gender identity by not placing it in the center of the spotlight.

Sorry 'other Gina'... but I don't think 3rd gendering everyone who's trans is in any way respecting their gender identity. I agree it's more complex with people who really are bi-gendered, genderfluid or GQ, but I actually think referring to someone as "a transgender person" or using first initials makes us all into eunuchs (apologies to people who ID that way). This is just lazy reporting (or outright bigotry)... it's not that hard to confirm someone's gender.

Media, to be certain simply do not understand how to handle tranpeople. I have a fair amount of interaction with the media through working in advocacy and politics. Sometimes they get it correct, sometimes...not so much. This story,

http://www.mlive.com/living/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2009/04/journey_to_womanhood_transgend.html

Is a perfect example. Despite several phone and e-mail exchanges in addition to an in-person interview, the copy still paints me as a man who became a woman. Unfortunately, this story was picked up by the AP and has since run in the Chicago Tribune, LA Times, on the Huffington Post and elsewhere. The Health/Life editor for the originating newspaper is a friend and tells me it (the article)is still in the top 5 of hit getters on their website. The implications of this are obvious; In an attempt to be "out", I have unwittingly perpetuated poor understanding of transgender people and faulty conceptualization of transition and socialization. Most distressingly, the writer focuses and SRS as a process of going in a man and coming out a woman, a la some bad "Frankenstein" movie.

While I cannot recall the last time out in public someone looked at me with that puzzled look that indicates something is not adding up correctly in their mind about how I present, I never the less understand the problem with the pronouns. I see it almost daily with people that knew me pre-transition, whom I still consider friends that still inadvertently mess up either on my name or my pronouns. I could and have tried to correct this in some cases often concluding that it is just not worth my trying to push them when it happens. Like trying to teach someone who thinks in only two dimensions to think in three, it is going to be a long uphill fight for the media to get it all correct when it comes to reporting on the trangendered. I count it as a victory when they come close to reporting us as real people as opposed to either side show oddities or worse still perverts.

"It's not just about respect, it's about presenting the facts of a story in a way that readers know what went on instead of being left to imagine for themselves."

While I agree that reporters and media outlets have a LONG way to go in reporting incidents involving transgender persons -- sometimes it's even painfully obvious from the reporting that someone has gone to great lengths to research a person's background, so they can report the "real" name instead of the legal one -- I don't really need or want to know someone's life history and surgical status when reading every news story.

But part of the problem seems to be that almost all reports include the name, sex-if-not-apparent-from-the-name, age, and race (if a crime is involved) of each individual, as if that sums up their identity. From there it's all downhill, if gender-appropriate pronouns are in question, as they are here.

Do I think that identifying a trans woman as a cross-dressing man is horrible, and often deliberately hurtful? Of course! Do I think that someone's surgical status is usually nobody's business, irrelevent to the story in most situations, and ought not to be made public? Yep!

But was this person under reasonable suspician of having committed a crime? Was she being arrested? Or was the officer abusing his position to satisfy his curiosity about what was "really going on" here? I don't know. It doesn't sound like anybody's telling. And now that there's a lawsuit, one side or the other is likely to slip into "no comment" mode.

I might have sat on the story for another day or two, to get more information, if I was writing the story. But most copywriters today barely have time to get the grammar correct. This is not investigative journalism, and learning about transgender people, in order to write a more compassionate, sensitive, in-depth story about a lawsuit against the police department, wasn't in the cards.

Thanks for bringing this to attention. As Gina points out, it seems to be epidemic. But there's one point I thought should be mentioned. I doubt you meant it this way, but...

That's an important distinction, especially when the suit is saying the plaintiff wanted to be searched by a female officer and is accusing the police officer... of sexual aggression.

Actually, if the officer groped her, it doesn't really matter what gender she is, it was a totally inappropriate thing for him to do. It's telling though, that our society (as seen in the news reporting and comments on some of those articles) seems to think that when someone is trans, it's an appropriate exception and a good way to tell who a person "really" is.

It would be interesting to see all the media coverage of Christine Jorgensen back in the day. I would ascertain that they got the story quite right back then and probably used all the proper pronouns. Afterall, she did receive Celebrity status. And to think that 50 years later we are moving backwards, ignorance and bigotry among Citizens, Journalists, Police and etc. Until there is a change in the Civil Rights Act and equality for all, things will never change and will get worse.