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.

Comments and corrections can be sent to To contact Robbi Cohn, email

8 replies on “A tale of two stories”

  1. I’m starting to get tired of trans people piggy backing off of the Semenya case, it’s not the same thing to be intersex and to be transexual. Intersex people have legitimate medical reasons for being between two genders, trans people do not.

  2. i think it’s harsh to say “Intersex people have legitimate medical reasons for being between two genders, trans people do not.” also, for what it’s worth, the article at least mentions (once) “intersex mutilations are repeated daily”.

    however, as an ally and member of a human rights advocacy group dedicated to end intersex genital mutilation, i find it pretty annoying how intersex and trans issues are once more getting conflated in an appropriating manner. e.g., thomas beatie was looking for media attention, caster semenya surely didn’t.

    appropriating conflations like in this article perpetuate the invisibilty of intersex people and are not helpful to end the unwanted genital surgeries and other grave human rights violations of intersex people.

    please consider a more sensitive approach in the future, thanks.

  3. Marie – I’m IS myself. I also have some knowledge of TS.

    Please see the presentation to the American Psychiatric Association annual meeting in seminar S10:

    S10. The Neurobiological Evidence for Transgenderism
    1. Brain Gender Identity Sidney W. Ecker, M.D.
    2. Transsexuality as an Intersex Condition Milton Diamond, Ph.D.

    It may be useful to differentiate Transsexuality from all the other IS syndromes such as CHA, CAIS, Klinefelters, Swyers etc.

    Or it may not. Those with 5ARD, 17BHDD and a few really rare conditions get a “natural sex change” to grossly over-simplify, which can either cure or induce the symptoms of Transsexuality, depending on the congenital neuro-anatomy.

    Then there’s all the IS kids who were surgically “normalised” the wrong way, and now have all the symptoms of being TS.

    But none of these can be TS as they are IS. So it’s GIDNOS, not GID, and treatment to correct the situation is as often denied as it is fast-tracked.

    The lines are blurred in such cases. Most IS people don’t have “gender issues”, but 1 in 10 do. Compared to 1 in ~3000 in the general population.

  4. Marie

    Please don’t hold back on your animus towards non-IS transsexuals — tell us what you really feel.

    Also, what are your credentials that allow you to state with conviction that, “Intersex people have legitimate medical reasons for being between two genders, trans people do not.” Do you mean that I and all other transsexual-without-observable-intersex-signs people chose at age 4-5-6 to delude ourselves into thinking that the world had somehow chosen the wrong societal roles for us — that it’s OUR FAULT for not seeing the inevitability of our biology and just, you know, getting over it and being the man or woman our bodies made us? Or some such?

    How do you KNOW that transsexualism is a choice, rather than a more subtle form of IS — one with no externally observable tissue that fails to resolve into society’s boy/girl binary?

    And what do you hope to gain for yourself by jettisoning the non-ISed transsexuals?

  5. I appreciate all the above comments. It was not my intention in this column to conflate intersex issues with either transsexual or transgender issues. My point was to call the media out regarding their distorted coverage of both trans and intersex issues.

    I will state, for the record, that I accept and agree that intersex conditions and transsexuality are to be differentiated for many reasons, yet still share commonality in the way they are handled by the media. I will also go on record as acknowledging that, to my way of thinking, being transsexual is not the same as being transgender. Again…they share certain commonalities, but that, in no way,shape or from, or they identical.

  6. btw…next month’s column will ask some of the questions we all seem to continually face regarding labels and nomenclature.

  7. Same here, I am an intersex person and I am so sick and tired of trans people piggy backing and riding off the coattails of the intersex people. It also pisses me off when you see trans people butting into an intersex issue, when it doesn’t have anything to do with trans people. You see trans people who will butt in and try to claim that an intersex issue is their issue.

    It even pisses me off when you see trans people who are piggy backing off of the Semenya case and trying to claim that Semenya is their poster child for their cause or Semenya’s issue is their issue. When in reality Semenya’s issue is not a trans issue and it’s only and intersex issue.

    The fact is Intersex people have a legitimate medical issue and trans people do not have a legitimate medical issue. Trans people have a psychological/mental health issue.

    I plainly think that trans people need to Butt out of intersex issue and they need to stop butting in and barging into an issue that is not exclusivity theirs.

  8. If we want any hope in the world of getting fair press coverage of IS and TS, we need to stop fighting among ourselves and start supporting each other. I may be intersexed based on some reports and information, but I am definitely TS at this point.

    Please consider that we have few enough allies at present to go around. If a story helps raise awareness for BOTH of us, then don’t you think it might be a GOOD THING!

    So far this year, we have over 112 people murdered world wide who are TS/IS . In a few weeks, we will all be holding a memorial service. Maybe just a little bit of support instead of hatred would be a great thing here.

    my 2.5 cents worth….

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