I woke up this morning to see yet another transgender person in the news. This time, it’s the German transman who gave birth to a baby. While I wish the happy dad good luck with his child, I am a little dispirited to see the story. It’s the kind of story that is making the rounds on the social networks, the link being shared and reshared, and each time getting commented upon. Not because it’s the heartwarming story of a parent and child, but because HEY LOOK AT THIS WEIRD STORY ABOUT A FREAK WHO HAD A KID!
2013 has been a pretty active year for transgender in the news. Sadly, mainstream media is far less interested in news these days than they are interested in sensationalism. This is true for any category of news story; but it seems to be on particular display recently when it comes to transgender stories. As transgender has become a more prominent topic in the news, the media’s approach to sensationalist narrative has done nothing to help the cause. In fact, it’s painting us as the oddities we desperately don’t want to be.
This year’s recent trend of transgender news stories started, it seems, with Coy Mathis back in February. On the surface, I’d like to think that this story was popular because it was about a child fighting for her right to be herself. But it wasn’t. It was just good link-bait. Look at all the media cues: a cute kid, a hot-button topic that was sure to earn link shares and ignite comments threads (remember, every comment on a news site is another hit for a banner ad), and a chance for both sides of the political aisle to criticize public education depending on the outcome. And besides, Coy’s story alerted people to the fact that OH MY GOD THEY’RE GOING TO LET BOYS INTO THE GIRL’S BATHROOM, WHERE SOMEONE WILL DEFINITELY SEE A PENIS!
Coy’s story helped launch media interest in the problem of transgender bathroom use. Bathroom use has actually been an ongoing political issue for awhile now, but it took precocious Coy to make it mainstream. It helped that California took up the banner with their inclusive school bill, AB 1266, and of course the nutjobs in Arizona had to get in on the action with their awful transgender bathroom bill. But, again, the story was popular for the wrong reasons. The bathroom story isn’t compelling to people because of how it reflects the basic rights of individuals or the complex nature of gender, but because OH MY GOD, SOME PERV MIGHT PUT ON A DRESS AND GO INTO THE WOMEN’S ROOM AND RAPE!
Then there was the public coming out of Navy SEAL Kristin Beck. Why did Beck get an hour on Anderson Cooper 360? Because she was Navy SEAL. Sure, she’d published a book about her story; but so had dozens of other transwomen in over the years. They didn’t get an hour to sit down with a primetime newscast. Beck’s story wasn’t compelling for its humanness, for its encouraging portrayal of a person living for themselves; it was compelling to the media because HE WAS A NAVY SEAL FER CRYING OUT LOUD WHY WOULD HE WANT TO BECOME A WOMAN?!
Then there was Chelsea Manning. Oh, where to begin with Pfc. Manning? Well, on the bright side she got many news agencies to finally clarify and declare their position on transgender names and pronouns. So that was a positive. On the other hand, the most prominent transgender person in the news this year was convicted on charges of treason and chose to come out on the day after her sentencing, thus prompting every transphobe in sight to declare her a mentally unstable attention-seeker and GOD DAMMIT I WILL NOT PAY A DIME OF MY TAX DOLLARS FOR HER SEX CHANGE!
There was also the story of Fallon Fox, the “first transgender MMA fighter,” who wasn’t allowed to compete because I DON’T CARE WHAT SCIENCE SAYS SHE’S A MAN DAMMIT! And the recent story of the transwoman who also became a Muslim, which had the double-weird factor of WHY WOULD A MAN WANT TO BECOME A GIRL MUSLIM AND OH MY GOD DOES HE LOOK LIKE A MAN IN A BURKA.
Even the seemingly positive stories that the news outlets choose to pick up have a negative side. Several stories of late about transgender couples [here and here] have popped up. While one could say “Aw, they’re in love, isn’t that sweet,” what these stories really seem to be promoting is the narrative that the best people for trans to marry are each other because WOW HOPE THEY’RE HAPPY SINCE NO NORMAL PERSON WOULD WANT TO MARRY THEM.
At a time when we’re fighting to be seen as “normal,” it feels like the media narrative is pushing all the things about us that could be viewed as “abnormal.” I’m not saying that the German transman shouldn’t have had that baby, or that Lucy Vallender shouldn’t have converted to Islam, or that these sweet couples in love shouldn’t be happy in their relationship. I’m just saying that I wish the media would lay off the sensationalism already.
Maybe the best thing is to think about it in terms of the “long game.” Eventually, these sorts of stories will get old — not because they’re no longer interesting, but because transgender will cease to be the oddity that ties these stories together; it will just a thing that people are. And that’s exactly what we want to be