After writing a very honest and often horrific account of her teenage experiences online, a trans woman I know was approached by a sympathetic journalist who wanted to share her story: amid the “debate” over banning conversion therapy, the journalist wanted to make her readers aware of its horrors and lasting damage.
My friend was wary, especially given the publication, but the journalist was very persuasive. Promises were made about photos, context and framing; the journalist offered to share the final piece for approval and to make any last-minute changes.
You can probably guess what happened next.
What was supposed to be an informative, sympathetic story became a hit piece. The photos that the writer promised not to use were used. The framing was changed, the context too. Online, the sole link to her social media wasn’t to the main account page or any of her conversion therapy posts; instead, the site linked to an old retweet of a joke post about the late Queen’s handbag colours that details the handkerchief code for various sex acts.
In this case the paper was the Daily Mail, but these tactics are used across the media. In this case I think there are multiple breaches of the IPSO code, but even if the regulator found in her favour months from now the damage is already done. She’s been discussed by hundreds of people online in the most awful ways, and the paper could still twist the knife further if one of its rabid columnists decides to use her as a subject for yet another anti-trans screed.
My friend was aware that this might happen but took a calculated risk, hoping that the article would help raise awareness of what conversion therapy and associated horrors entails. But the paper, and many like it, are waging a culture war in which marginalised people are only ever the enemy.
Trans Media Watch has spent a very long time monitoring mainstream media’s coverage of trans people, and its guidance is very helpful. It’s important to have trans and non-binary people telling their stories, but all too often publications and broadcasters have already decided which stories they want to tell – and if your story doesn’t fit, they’ll change it until it does.