November is Transgender Awareness Month and I thought it might be useful to address some topics around key debates and concerns in trans issues. I shall be sharing on my YouTube channel, where there will be an an accompanying video to this post, and on all my other social media sites.
One issue that frequently arises is backlash after a poorly presented program, film, or article on trans people and trans lives, hits the public sphere. Sadly it is quite rare that the media gift us with positive and affirming stories of transgender people.
When I first started sharing my story of my gender transition, I was very keen to work with the media to help raise awareness and reach out to other people struggling with gender issues. However, I find myself having to say no more and more because I have done things that did not come out how I hoped or was told they would and it’s disappointing. I’m also sick of seeing articles and documentaries that patronise us or sensationalise our stories. I feel for other Trans people that, like me, want to help only to find that the message conveyed is not the one they intended.
I’m having to be strict now, all l care about is helping other Trans people, yes l want to increase awareness and understanding but for the benefit of Trans people, not for the amusement of the general public
I do not believe in boycotting all media as a response to bad press, I feel that’s cutting our noses off to spite our face and just creates a stalemate between us. Instead we need a dialogue, you are still learning about us, our lives and our language, you will get it wrong and that’s OK, but what’s not OK is not apologising when you get it wrong or not listening to us and continuing to get it wrong. There are many of us who do want to tell you our stories but you need to first stop, drop what you think you know and instead really listen to us.
Here are my ten tips on what it will be helpful to bear in mind when working with us.
- Only trans people know how to tell trans stories
- I do not think the media can tell accurate stories or create accurate films and documentaries without the input of trans people, I believe it is vital that a production team member is trans or that the team relies heavily on the advice of trans people in the creative process.
- Make sure to do research, talk to the wider trans community and consult with experts such as Trans Media Watch
- Stop generalising
- Remember the Trans person or Trans people you are filming or writing about, are just a small sample of a vast population. We all are very different people, came to realise we were Trans in different ways and live our lives very differently so please do not generalise to all trans people.
- Don’t focus on surgery as defining us
- Don’t focus on hormones and surgery as defining our gender, these changes reflect our gender, they do not create it
- Be aware of your preconceptions
- Think of your impact on our lives. The way u portray us effects the way we feel about ourselves and the way society feels about us
- Check your perception of us before filming does it actually match with what we are telling you?
- Stop projecting your ideas about what you think it is like to be us onto what we are saying, instead bracket your ideas and listen to what we are telling you
- Ensure your whole production team is singing from the same hymn sheet. I am sure that most producers mean well with their questions but the way it’s edited can completely change the message as can the choice of lighting, the voice over and the music. They all convey a message and too often it takes away from the trans person reasons for taking part in the first place and then misrepresents us
- Be aware of our vulnerability
- Trans people are vulnerable people, even the strongest of us are vulnerable because of the prejudice that exists in society towards us.
- Remember that every time we choose to be visible for you it is your responsibility to respect and protect that trust
- Trans people agree to articles and programs because of a wish to increase understanding and to reach those struggling. Respect that and do not miss represent us
- Learn our language
- There is a general consensus of best practices guidelines and the language to use when telling Trans stories, these guidelines are there to protect the individual and the wider community so please study them. I will put a link at the bottom to trans media watch who provide great advice for the media
- Sometimes a trans person may have different feelings about words, in this case follow the person’s lead but clarify it was their choice. Again this demonstrates that each of us experience being transgender differently and navigate life differently
- Be aware of the power you hold in telling our story and the impact you have
- Remember the power you have, over the Trans person/people you are working with and in the effect of the message you send out with your creation
- As trans people we have little social power, we trust you, you’ve told us you want to tell our story, to help spread awareness, to humanise us. Due to your expertise we see you as people of power and we trust you. Do not abuse that trust, make sure you tell the story that we tell you and nothing else.
- Be honest and respectful
- Be honest with us; tell us your aims, what will be used, how it will be used, what message you hope to convey. This will give us informed choice in working with you.
- Be honest with yourself, what are your aims? Do you really want to help trans people or do you just want ratings?Remember we are people and people who are still fighting to be accepted, please do not exploit our vulnerability in order to further your own ends.
- You are responsible and accountable
- If you write a story and pass it on l believe it is still your responsibility to ensure your original intent is not misrepresented. A great story can be turned into circus play with just a few poor tag lines and headlines.
- Remember we are people not ratings generators
- Emotive tag lines may well pull in viewers and readers but they serve to feed the sensationalist view of trans people as people who are odd, different and to be gawped at which only serves to make things worse for us.
- We are not freaks, anomalies, emotive tag lines, or tools to increase ratings. We are people, with inspiring stories to tell that go far beyond what gender we were assigned at birth, what our old names were or what we have in our pants.