Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

The New York Times Is Hopeless On Trans Issues, Again

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | July 25, 2012 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: New York Times, Sarah Maslin Nir, The Nocturnalist, trans, transgender, transphobia, transsexual

That trashy tabloid, the New York Times, has come out with yet another broadside against transgender people in an article today, "For Money, Or Just to Strut, Living Out Loud on a Transgender Runway." It's a story about transgender youth in the West Village by Sarah Maslin Nir. Here's a brief taste of the article:

[S]cores of her friends strutted past in the dark, stopping often to air kiss, catcall or sometimes brawl....Many are working as prostitutes...skintight candy-striped dress...she leaned against a prewar apartment building where some studios rent for $3,700 a month....reducing the scene to one of vice is to get only part of the picture...."I was so blown away," she said. "I'm from the Caribbean -- you have to hide."...platform thigh-high boots, buttocks-revealing denim shorts, red-pleather boleros with matching caps and tops of the backless, sleeveless or even frontless variety...brightly colored like flocks of exotic -- if risqué -- parakeets...But while the T-girls are often beautiful, none deny that most nights here are fraught with ugliness...unruly customers...violent episode at a Dunkin' Donuts...police place giant spotlights to discourage crime...The screaming fight lasted for blocks, all the way to the river and into the night.

Do I find this description distasteful because it emphasizes the ridiculous, or because it reminds me of racist rhetoric, or because it views its subjects as trash? I'm not sure, what do you think?

The journalist, Ms. Nir, is not at fault for stating the facts of what she saw on Christopher Street. And she went out of her way to note that the story isn't just about vice. But after its bungling a few months ago of its obituary of Lorena Escalera, a young transgender woman of color who died in a fire, featuring adjectival modifiers such as curvaceous, gritty and inviting men for visits, you'd think someone higher up there would have said ixnay on the ansgendertay ereotypesay? Of course, I should know better, since their response was NY Times to LGBT Community: 'That Will Be All There Is From Us.'

And then there was the wonderful article by "The Ethicist," a Times columnist who excoriated trans people with NY Times: "Transgendered" People Who Don't Out Themselves Are Immoral, later "clarified" here.

Does The Times have a transgender problem?

No, they are "journalists," objectively reporting what they see. After all, the author saw these events occur! Do you want to suppress the truth just because they are transgender?

Hey, there are a lot of fried chicken joints and fruit stands in Harlem, too, but would that justify an article about how much Black people enjoy fried chicken and watermelon? Yes, some transgender youth of color who hang out on Christopher Street are colorful like parakeets, and yes, the police consider them criminals, and yes, there is prostitution. But the slant and the spin on these Times articles involving trans women of color is all toward the tabloid view of trans people. Let's have some positive coverage of transgender people of color, okay people? You think you journalists could dig that up? Or I am being too hypercritical, asking journalists to examine their own biases, and think about whether using the first stereotype that pops into your head for a story exoticizing a marginalized group is lazy journalism?

Meanwhile, in New Orleans:

BreakOUT! applauds the Consent Decree between the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) released today.

The legally binding document, which comes after a 2011 federal investigation of the NOPD that named discriminatory policing toward the LGBT community as an area of top concern, marks the first time the DOJ has gone this far in outlining concrete measures to address profiling and discrimination against the community

BreakOUT! worked with the Department of Justice and other community stakeholders to bring attention to the experiences of the LGBT community in New Orleans, in particular African American LGBT youth and young transgender women who are impacted by the criminal or juvenile justice system. As a result, the investigation's Executive Summary states, "...transgender women complained that NOPD officers improperly target and arrest them for prostitution, sometimes fabricating evidence of solicitation for compensation." It goes on to say, "Indeed, community members told us they believe some officers equate being African American and transgendered with being a prostitute."

Sounds like the New York Times article today on trans people was written by the New Orleans Police Department. Or the New York City Police Department, which still regards trans people of color as subhuman, agreeing, at least, to stop doing routine genitalia searches of trans people to figure out their sex, but refusing to change their procedures manual to give the minimal guidance necessary to train officers to think of trans people as worthy of human dignity.

I know, I know, The Times Editors will brusquely issue a statement that they stand by the story. I expect no less. But if you're wondering why I cancelled my subscription, wonder no more.

Some of my Facebook friends made insightful comments when I posted the story this morning.

It contains no original thinking. Wait, what? There are TG prostitutes? Who knew? And sometimes people fight with one another over stupid things because they have so little control over some of the more important stuff? Shocking! The only thing that makes this at all different (i.e., titillating) is the TG aspect of it, and if the writer realized this she might have worked harder to make it relevant. -- Jeff Epperly

It's exoticizing stereotyping with no mention of homelessness, rejection by families, schools and churches, people's need for self-affirmation and self-reassurance. We must though beware of drifting into 'those are our bad apples; we are the good ones' rhetoric. -- Roz Kaveney

Sensationalistic and condescending. And with no mention of homelessness or family rejection, no distinction is made between prostitution and survival sex. It reads like a print version of "Paris is Burning" - but stripped of any dignity. -- Kevi Equality

I haven't seen the NY Times do any comparable articles about cisgender [non-trans] prostitutes, so why are trans prostitutes newsworthy? I will never condemn any news source for reporting news, no matter how defamatory it appears to be, if it is truthful (even if extremely shallow and misleading) but I do insist it be proportional. If they want to write about trans prostitutes, then there must be many other comparable articles about trans people with other accomplishments and lifestyles in appropriate numbers. I insist that kind of overall accuracy in presentation needs to be imposed, otherwise it's not news, it is promoting stereotypes. I'm not seeing that accuracy, nor am I seeing any depth, analysis, or good journalism here. -- Jay Kallio


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