Chelsea Manning and the Media

With the recent prosecution of Manning, there is a very major detail that is being swept under the rug (in regards to respecting her). She is not Bradley Manning, or even B.Manning. She is Chelsea Manning, and she is a woman. She made this announcement years before, even stating that her biggest fear was seeing her name and face in papers, seeing herself living as the man she was not. On August 22, she made this announcement once again, with her plans to transition. However, news media is lagging behind.

Per usual, especially when dealing with trans women, her old name is plastered everywhere. Some articles contain pictures of her dressed up en femme alongside pictures of her in the military. This isn’t something specific to Chelsea either. The media loves to put trans women next to their old lives, especially if they have pictures of them being butch. This is extremely problematic for several reasons.

By doing this, they are ungendering the person. The news source in question is trying to show that this trans* person is not legitimately the gender they identify with. By exposing hyper masculine pictures of trans women, they are trying to show that these women are not really women, but actually men. By making a bigger deal out of her past, they are making her being transgender the focus of the story as opposed to what actually happened.

This isn’t just a thing that happens to people charged of crimes either. Murdered trans* people (once again, especially trans women), people who have huge life accomplishments, and so on. Many of these articles will mention what they have done (in regards to accomplishments) and then go on and on about their history as a trans* person, generally using pre and post-transition photos in the article. They will also pronoun swap, and sometimes not even use correct pronouns in the first place.

Trans* people convicted of crimes, and those who have been victims of crimes, get it even worse. Sometimes only pre-transition photos will be posted, their previous name (even if it is not their legal name) , and often the incorrect gender.  These news articles seems to feel that since these people are criminals or were victims of crime, they deserve to be misgendered and their lives as the people they are erased in a sense. They become their crime (or death) and their transgender status, not people who have done wrong, or were victims who happened to be transgender. Their trans* status becomes a focal point.

Now, this isn’t to say that reporting people as trans* is necessarily a bad thing. As with most reports, there is a right and a wrong way to do it. If someone is openly trans* and does not mind being publicly outted on such a level, it is ok to mention it. If they believe themselves to be an advocate and want to be highly visible, it is ok to delve into their story as a trans* person. We need more visible and open trans* people, especially in the main media spotlight. However, most of the time, this is done in a dehumanizing and degendering way, almost (or full out) mocking these people.

An example of how to incorrectly do this is the situation with the Daily Mail. A teacher of a UK school, Lucy Meadows, came out as transgender and planned to transition and return to school living as the woman she was. The Daily Mail got a hold of this and proceeded to mock the woman, misgender her, use her old name (despite her preferred name being clearly given), and basically harass her through their articles. She eventually committed suicide due to the abuse she experienced at the hands of the Daily Mail writers. While this case is an extreme, it shows the emotional toll of outing someone who does not want to be publicly out, especially accompanied by malicious intent. Even without malicious intent, the way news media portrays and talks about trans* people dehumanizes, embarrasses, and perpetuates stereotypes that are extremely harmful and detrimental.

The news media needs to stop focusing on people as being trans*, unless they openly want it to be a focus. If someone wants their life to revolve around their trans* identity, their work in the community, and so on, it is alright to elaborate on their transition and lives. If someone does not, do not do it. It’s about respect. Sadly, the news media is so much about using trans* people as freak show punchlines to reel in viewers, that respect is often not given. They are often not seen as people who happen to be transgender, but transgenders, people who are only about their gender identity and history with it. Basic respect and dignity seem to be at the low end of the totem pole for the media, especially in regards to trans* people.

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