Pain is privileged

There’s a good piece in Nieman Labs about the biases, often unconscious, that mean journalists adopt the evangelical right’s framing when it comes to reporting on trans people.

How else to explain the tens of thousands of words this year and last devoted to questioning whether trans people have too much access to health care, rather than to understanding the forces behind legislation to deny us that care? How else could a major news organization devote a major investigative report on the sliver of trans people who regret their transitions rather than on the many tens of thousands who don’t have the opportunity to transition to begin with? Or how else could an in-depth story about a clinic faced with an increase in trans minors question whether those minors really needed care rather than focus on how the healthcare system was failing them.

One group’s pain is privileged; the other’s, invisible.

The reporting over “detransitioners” is an excellent example of that. The number of people who detransition – that is, abandon their transition altogether and return to living in their assigned gender – is vanishingly small, and largely consists of people who found that prejudice, discrimination and bullying, and in the UK the decades-long waiting lists for even the most basic treatment, made their lives hell to the point they had to once again hide who they are in order to survive.

Those stories should be told, but they’re not; instead, media focuses on the even tinier number of celebrity detransitioners, the three or four people touring the globe with the evangelical right who demand an end to all trans healthcare because they made bad calls as grown adults.

Exceptions make the news. Of course they do: as the adage goes, dog bites man isn’t news; man bites dog is. But what the press is doing around trans people and detransition is to tell you that it isn’t safe to let your pets out of the house at all because the streets are full of rabid dog-biting hordes ready to chomp on your chihuahua, munch on your mastiff or chow down on your chow chow.

The number of people who regret transition surgery are far fewer than the number who regret any other form of surgery; the number of people who regret transition are a fraction of a fraction of a fraction compared to the number of people who find that it improves or even saves their lives. But only the celebrity detransitioners get the column inches and the airtime, almost always unchallenged.

The Nieman Labs piece uses an analogy:

If you’re covering access to abortion care, do you sic your crack investigative team on the sub-1% of women who regret their abortions, or on the multiple attempts to deny them care?

This is exactly what happens with trans people.

I think there are two problems with the article, though. The first is that it doesn’t take into account how much journalism is actually churnalism, based not on reporting or research but on regurgitating press releases and talking points from pressure groups. Sometimes that regurgitation is down to pressure: in many newsrooms and production studios people are overworked, underpaid and don’t have the time to check whether a group is astroturfed, let alone whether the contents of its press release are factual. It’s why anybody with a logo, a Twitter account and an axe to grind can get on the BBC or in the pages of the press as a supposed authority.

And the second problem is that the article talks about a particular type of journalist, the one who wants to do their job well, and I’m not so sure there are so many of those journalists left. Unfortunately with trans people, many of the people writing and speaking about us know exactly what they’re doing; the misrepresentation and disinformation is not accidental but intentional.

How do you persuade journalists to report the truth when their social media followers, their book deals and their TV appearances depend on them doing otherwise?