Given increased press coverage trans issues have garnered over the past five years, I remain skeptical regarding the media’s ability and/or desire to report fairly and objectively. Any fiction that much of the collective press desires objective reporting or that it isn’t exhibitionistic is destroyed in the wake of the contrast between these two stories. As to ability, the misuse of pronouns and nomenclature by various and sundry publications is rampant. This is either ignorant (AP and other stylebooks have been updated for some time now), or a flagrant disregard for human dignity.
In August, Tyli’a Mack was brutally stabbed and killed in Washington, D.C. Details are scant. In broad daylight, she and an unnamed trans woman were victims of an assailant, only two blocks from the offices of Transgender Health Empowerment. The other girl miraculously survived the knife the perpetrator wielded; T’ylia wasn’t so lucky. According to the surviving victim, the assailant evidently had made transphobic remarks and had stalked them for about 10 city blocks. We have no word from authorities regarding the hate crime status of this fatal assault. As of my last revision (mid-October), there have been a total of 24 media citations for the brutal stabbing and murder of Tyli’a Mack.
Again in August, the Caster Semanya story broke. She had just won the 800-meter footrace in Berlin. No sooner than she crossed the finish line, the IAFF decided to make a spectacle of her life and the media sharks circled for what would become a feeding frenzy. Both her sex and gender were called into question because Caster has an intersex condition. To date, there have been 235 media citations adding to her torture and humilation.
This obvious disparity shows a clear picture of what the media deems to be important and what is easily overlooked. The sensationalism of the “poor kid” who they think is neither a boy nor a girl is just too juicy to turn down. The transwoman slain is just another statistic and not overly significant —certainly not as spicy as the plight of a 25-year-old South African girl who runs.
Who covered the story of the murder? Twenty-four mentions from 14 news agencies. Seven were local, including The Washington Post, ABC News 8 and NBC Washington. The rest include LGBT publications, local and national. According to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), News 8 repeatedly used the term “transgenders.” According to Monica Roberts (Transgriot), NBC Washington referred to the victims as “he” and as “transgender men.”
So, mediocre to shabby coverage from mainstream affiliates of national press, mention from a few non-local LGBT blogs and reaction from GLAAD and trans activists. Twenty-four citations. With the exception of the 2008 murders of Larry King and Angie Zapata, both of which garnered quite a bit of media attention, this is the usual fare for hatred motivated trans crimes.
One might have thought Caster Semenya had perfected nuclear fusion, or attempted to hijack an airplane, or something of stupendous import to merit the kind of sensational press directed toward her. Let it be said and underscored: Her achievement remains undiminished and her identity her own, regardless of others’ attempts to assail both her body and psyche.
The first reports came from AP, The New York Times and a number of LGBT publications. If not unobjective, they still managed to cover the story in a quasi-sensationalist fashion, even though a number of the stories were sympathetic, albeit of the syrupy and insincere variety. FOX News’ morning show, of course, was the exception. They spared no ridicule nor sickening guffaws as might have been expected from a network that lauds sophomoric and imbecilic behavior.
Over the next week, and for almost the entire next two months, reporters spanning the globe had weighed in regarding Caster’s travail — 128 different newspapers, magazines, TV networks and bloggers. Everyone had an opinion. It snowballed so quickly that it assumed the guise of an earth shattering “event.” I don’t think there has been quite this kind of trans uproar since “the pregnant man.” How and why is it that this world, which deems itself civilized, can at one and the same time, profess an utter disgust and an utter fascination with all things trans or intersex?
And, even though trans murders continue, and intersex mutilations are repeated daily, it’s the Caster Semanyas and Thomas Beatties of the world who become fodder for water fountain gossip. Didja hear about the pregnant man? Didja hear about the girl who runs and looks like a guy? The utter and abject disrespect for Caster Semanya, both physically and psychically, is unconscionable. This girl’s life has been ripped apart for the amusement of the masses. Images of the Roman coliseum come to mind; but, for T’ylia Mack, barely a whisper.
It’s not that I think some positive communication might not be generated by the publicity Caster Semenya has received. It has. And, it’s not that I wish to see two months of consistent trans murder news items. My concerns are, firstly, that we avoid the fascination and appetite for sensationalism which is spawned when these stories are run solely for their salacious content; secondly, that these so called stories do not become playgrounds for transphobes to insert their distorted truth; and, finally, that stories are legitimately newsworthy, proportionally cited, and further the ends of trans equality. No press is worse than a bigoted and insipid press.
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