News media sucks at reporting on violent attacks on transgender individuals in Washington, D.C.

It has been a frightening week to be trans in Washington, D.C.
Miriam linked previously to RMJ’s excellent critique of Metro Weekly’s coverage of an attack on a transgender woman by a gay man. I was particularly struck by Ray Young’s approach to solidarity between gay and trans folks. His statement that, “I let her know that I was one of the family, that I was homosexual” assumes that gay and trans individuals are automatically allies. Of course, this is following his violent attack on Janey Kay, a trans woman. Young seems to think he should be perceived as a friend to trans folks just because he’s gay and regardless of his actual actions.
I see this largely as the product of the often tokenizing tacking on of “T” after “LGB.” As RMJ points out, Metro Weekly claims to be “Washington DC’s GLBT Newsmagazine,” but their coverage of this story shows a woeful lack of understanding of and respect for transgender individuals. The fact is, solidarity between gay and trans folks is not an automatic reality. Cisgender gay folks can still be transphobic, as Young demonstrates. The attack on two trans men at Fab Lounge, a D.C. gay bar, in March is more proof that gay spaces can be sites of violence against trans folks. I certainly hope for solidarity and community under the queer and trans umbrella. But there is a great deal of difference among LGBT folks and support for each other’s causes and needs is something that takes real work.
The anti-trans violence continued in D.C. on Wednesday when two transgender women were stabbed on a public street in the middle of the day. Both of them were taken to the hospital where Tyli’a “NaNa Boo” Mack died. The location of the attack is particularly frightening:

The stabbings occurred about two blocks from the North Capitol Street offices of Transgender Health Empowerment, a private social services group that provides drop-in services to transgender people, including transgender youth.

My information about the individual’s identities as trans women and the name of the woman who died comes from Transgender Health Empowerment’s News Release. News reports have been confusing and contradictory regarding their identities. The Sexist’s post on the incident catalogs the strange back and forth that occurred in the press regarding whether these individuals were trans women or trans men. In one article Fox 5 referred to the individuals as transgender women but then used male pronouns (the article has been updated since publishing so this may have changed). This lazy and irresponsible journalism shows the amount of ignorance about transgender issues among far too many reporters despite the existence of resources to help them report accurately.
If gay media is screwing up on trans issues it is sadly no surprise mainstream news sources are getting it so wrong. The prevalence of violent attacks against trans folks is horrible enough. The situation is compounded when the press does not respect the transgender community enough to write about us in ways that are accurate and recognize our humanity.
The othering of trans individuals and confusion about our identities in the press makes us seem strange and unknowable and bolsters fear. Poor reporting can further the dehumanization and lack of understanding that support a culture of transphobic violence.
For those of you in the D.C. area: there will be a candlelight vigil tonight at 6:30pm at 209 Q St. NW.

and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

8 Comments

  1. knitgirl
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    I just checked my AP (Associated Press) guide, the official style reference for journalists. Here is what it says under “transgender”:
    “Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.”
    So, if the victims identified as women, they should be referred to as such according to AP style.

  2. RMJ
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    The Fox News article and another NBC article were the first to cover it – and both either referred to the victims as men, transgendered males, or completely de-gendered them. I remember because I made the mistake of believing these reports and posting the stories on twitter referring to them as “trans men” – for which I apologize. They were not referred to correctly until the Frisky article.
    Additionally, thanks for the link. Much appreciated.

  3. little
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for posting on this, Jos. It is really sad and upsetting when bloggers have to do the news media’s work for them (and especially sad and upsetting when this is linked to oppressive/bigoted practice or policies). Please keep us updated as you can on this, and I’ll continue to check around for other mentions and links and post them here if I find them.

  4. ginasf
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    This also goes for the media which covered the rape/attempted murder a few weeks ago of a hearing impaired transwoman in Trinidad, CO while she was there to have an SRS consult with Marci Bowers. The story as originally reported in the Pueblo Chieftain newspaper was so confusing (“Transgender Man Attacked”) that I saw number other people report it on the Internet as though an FTM was the victim. Even after GLAAD talked to the original reporter, his second story repeatedly referred to the MTF victim as a “Transgender Individual”… the standard way of third-gendering transwomen. To even call this reporting is absurd.
    I also note the original story about the attack in DC made it sound as if the stabbing was an argument between two “transgender men” and not the attack it clearly was.

  5. ginasf
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    This also goes for the media which covered the rape/attempted murder a few weeks ago of a hearing impaired transwoman in Trinidad, CO while she was there to have an SRS consult with Marci Bowers. The story as originally reported in the Pueblo Chieftain newspaper was so confusing (“Transgender Man Attacked”) that I saw number other people report it on the Internet as though an FTM was the victim. Even after GLAAD talked to the original reporter, his second story repeatedly referred to the MTF victim as a “Transgender Individual”… the standard way of third-gendering transwomen. To even call this reporting is absurd.
    I also note the original story about the attack in DC made it sound as if the stabbing was an argument between two “transgender men” and not the attack it clearly was.

  6. akibare
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 12:29 am | Permalink

    Wow.
    I was in DC earlier this summer, on vacation. I’m a woman, a cis woman (born female, feel female, identify female) who just is… not so “femmy.” I suppose to put it directly, I’ve crossdressed my entire life. I don’t know why. It’s just me.
    So there I was, wearing my normal outfit of men’s jeans, sneakers, striped collared shirt, untucked. Yeah, it’s the fashion for young men this season, I realize. I have short hair. I was slightly slow putting my metro pass into the turnstile, because, well, I’m a tourist, and they operate slightly differently than the CTA passes in Chicago.
    …when some guy goes OFF on me, yelling about me being slow. Okay, I can deal with that, but hey, doesn’t look like that guy has anywhere in particular to be soon. But then? He starts screaming about me being a “tomboy,” he doesn’t like “tomboys,” various things that should happen, things are messed up, there’s these “tomboys” in the world.
    WTF?
    I’m not about to start any conversation or confrontation either, just melted into the crowd and got the heck OUT of there. No one else was paying any attention, it’s just some crazy ranting guy.
    And yeah, it’s minor, I can laugh, but… makes me think, wait, not all is okay around here. Why do you care what I wear? Reading this just reminded me of it.
    As for TFA and the pronouns bit, seems to me that politeness dictates that you use the pronoun that the person is identifying with. To do otherwise, to me, would be a deliberate insult and rubbing salt in a wound. Thankfully by luck of my life experiences I’ve not had to deal with that particular issue, but there are other identity issues I have dealt with, and yeah, the little slights and purposeful misusing of markers hurt. Thing is, very often the people doing it know EXACTLY what they’re doing, all claims to the contrary.

  7. little
    Posted August 29, 2009 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Pam’s House Blend has more on the story and a video from the vigil here:
    http://www.pamshouseblend.com/diary/12712/more-on-tylia-nana-boo-mack-from-dc-trans-coalition
    And WaPo got in on the action a little late, and using the “safe” (and inaccurate) term “trandgender person”:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/27/AR2009082701724.html

  8. ginasf
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    IMO, ‘transgender person’ or ‘transgender individual’ is about as insulting and dismissive as referring to a trans woman by their male birth name or using male pronouns. I feel it’s important to let media outlets know this isn’t an acceptable ‘middle/safe way’ to refer to specific trans people. Nor is making transgender/transsexual into a noun and referring to any transperson as ‘a transgender/a transsexual’ or using the term ‘transgenders/transsexuals’ (similar to the term ‘blacks’). Third gendering/objectifying pathologies aren’t okay. This involves a case-by-case exchange with media outlets and letting them know they are being monitored and need organization-wide policies for dealing with our communities. Media outlets in DC, which have had to deal with a great deal of reporting past anti-trans violence, have no excuse for claiming ignorance in a case like this.

Feministing In Your Inbox

Sign up for our Newsletter to stay in touch with Feministing
and receive regular updates and exclusive content.

172 queries. 0.620 seconds