I’ve written previously about the news media failing miserably at following their own rules when it comes to writing about transgender individuals. The Sexist’s Amanda Hess, who has done a great job of calling the press (including The Washington Post) out on these types of stories, has a write up of the latest gender identification screw up from The Washington Post.
WaPo first published a story that included an account of an off duty police officer in Prince George’s County, MD shooting two women after they dragged him with their car from the scene of a robbery. I am always disappointed when the press does not follow up on police violence – the power imbalance is such that I think these stories usually require more reporting than they receive. And there has been a lot of police violence in the DC area recently. But in terms of reporting individual’s genders there were no red flags in this piece.
But then WaPo published a follow up titled “Two Men Shot by Pr. George’s Officer Were Dressed as Women” which is all kinds of wrong. The two people identified as women in the original article were brought to the hospital, and then this happened:
It was believed at first that the two who were shot were women. But they “turned out to be males dressed in female clothing,” Officer Henry Tippett, a county police spokesman, said early Sunday.
That finding was apparently made when medical personnel began treating the two for gunshot wounds, Tippett said.
OK, so first there’s the police fail. Officers may have spoken with these two individuals, found out they were male identified cross dressers, and made a correction. Somehow I doubt that’s what happened, though. It sounds much more like someone at the hospital identified these two people as male, told the police, and the police ran with this (in which case there might be a medical professional fail too). There’s simply not enough information in the story to suggest these individuals were involved in the faux-clarification about their genders.
So the cops probably screwed up by making a second statement at all, and definitely screwed up with the clarity of that statement. But then WaPo actually ran with it.
Hess points out that these two individuals were probably either cross dressing or trans women (there are other possibilities given the fabulous diversity of gender identities and presentations). The available information makes me think they are trans women. But that’s an assumption, and should not be reported as fact, which WaPo should know:
For the Post, the distinction between “cross-dressing men” and “transgender women” is an important one. According to the Associated Press Stylebook, transgender subjects are to be identified by their gender identity, not their sex at birth. Media outlets are to employ “the pronoun preferred by the individuals who . . . present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth,” the guide reads. “If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.”
So the follow up article completely violates the AP style guide. The piece is hard to read as anything but an attempt to sensationalize a pretty standard crime story by throwing in those freaky scary gender benders. It’s not news, and both the follow up statement from the police and the WaPo piece are completely inappropriate. There might be a real article to report here given the prevalence of police violence against trans folks. But there’s no reason to publish a correction of the first piece right now, because based on the available information it might very well be accurate – it’s not actually always necessary to stick the “trans” in front of “woman,” you know.