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Transphobic press

Eight trans and non-binary people on the UK media’s transphobia epidemic

Transphobic headlines cause real damage – we spoke to people around the country about how the vitriolic press affects their wellbeing

At a time when trans rights are more under threat than ever, the spring 2019 issue of Dazed takes a stand for the global creativity of the LGBTQIA+ communities and infinite forms of identity. This article is a digital companion to the issue. You can pre-order a copy of our latest issue here, and see the whole Infinite Identities campaign here.

As the UK underwent a public consultation on the Gender Recognition Act in late 2018, the conversation around trans identity in the press seemed to reach fever pitch. And yet, trans voices themselves were lost in the noise, as huge platforms were given to cis writers to express their own opinions on the legitimacy of trans and non-binary identities. In the spirit of our Infinite Identities campaign, we at Dazed wanted to take the opportunity to platform the voices of just some of the real people whose daily lives and emotional wellbeing have been impacted by this onslaught of transphobic press. For more on the struggle faced by trans and non-binary people, read Stonewall’s 2018 LGBT in Britain report.


Robin: “I’m transfeminine and I’ve been transitioning over the last two years. I am mostly shielded from having to read things like Daily Mail or The Sun... However, in stuff I do read, ‘The Guardian view on the Gender Recognition Act: where rights collide’ was particularly heinous, disguising itself as a 'neutral' take on being transgender by anonymous editors of the paper. In the article, they talk about various things that have nothing to do with transgender people; i.e. trans women attacking cis women in bathrooms or prisons, when there is no documented evidence of this. The entire article was an excuse, as a supposedly left wing newspaper, to shout down at trans women that they are men. It was around that time, in October, that I made sure to avoid any news articles related to transgender people in any mainstream media, to protect my mental health.

“I'm constantly afraid that people I interact with have read these articles, and I am frightened for my safety. I get stared at all the time. I avoid going outside or taking public transport if possible. I never know which bathroom to use, because I'm afraid that someone will yell at me to get out or I'm in the "wrong" one. I generally use the men's, even if I don't want to because it doesn't fit my gender, and hope for the best.”

What changes would you like to see the British press make?

Robin: “Stop hiring people who are known to be actively hateful towards the transgender community. Hire more transgender people. At least 1% of stories should be written by transgender people (isn't this obvious?).”


Zena: “I'm known onstage as Queen Zee, and I'm a gender fluid queen. (The media) demonises groups of people that the public aren't exposed to often, minority communities, because people fear the unknown. Trans people are the perfect bogeyman, because we are a tiny percentage of the population, and honest representation of us is so hard to find.

“I saw a media attack on Mermaids, a charity that helps transgender children and their families. These are children we're talking about. 41% of trans people attempt suicide, this isn't dinner table politics, it's not some hypothetical situation to be banded around for political gain. It is a very real situation for a lot of families. These suicides happen because trans people are forced into sad lives; we read headlines about us all being perverts, or sex offenders, criminals. It's a culture of fear created around us.

“I got beaten up in a nightclub (recently), I won't bore you with the long story but I'm still pissing blood from it. I went to hospital, I had the damage to my kidney assessed. I'm okay, but it shouldn't happen. It's not the first time either; I was attacked a few years ago getting off a train. I can't name a trans friend who hasn't been on the end of abuse. Yet, I've worked on building sites, I've worked in factories, I've worked in nightlife. No one has an issue with me when they know me, no one cares once they realise you're as boring as they are.”

What changes would you like to see the British press make?

Zena: “I'd like to see the press be prosecuted for misinformation and slander when they run false news stories. I'd like it to be made illegal for owners of press outlets to sponsor or donate to political parties, and I'd like to see more reports on the murder, abuse and assault of trans people than the fictional ‘what if’ scenarios they are so-called "’reporting’. I'd pay to see the offices of corrupt press burnt down and the ashes made into a mural of Marsha P Johnson with Piers Morgan in a headlock.”


Ray: “I'm non-binary. When I first started (coming out), the reaction that I expected was like, people saying that they didn't understand. But recently, I've had much more of a feeling that the response to coming out has been derision and laughter and scorn. There's a lot of skewed conversation in the press. Not just the newspapers people don't trust, but the newspapers that are more ‘respectable’ are still having transphobic stories. I feel more vulnerable to ridicule, and more like I shouldn't say anything about it. I do get scared to tell people my pronouns. I was scared before because it's just difficult to bring up, but now it's like, well, what if they say all that stuff that you see in the press?

“The thing about the press is, it's very hard to dispute – even though there's real evidence, and you could very logically feed back, people will tend to think, 'Well, that's true, because it was in the Guardian'. It is exhausting, and lots of us are used to being put in the position where we have to debate the existence of our identity like, every day. But in the end, it's not a conversation that you really want to have, or can have and still be well. I'm black and trans – there's not really any community around where I live, so it's very ordinary that it's not going to be something that I can talk about to people or is safe to show. I feel like people find it easier, at work for example, to respect me if they can pretend that I'm white and cis. I can put on the respectable voice, and they find it very easy to forget. That's not something you can have conversations with people about, because they get very defensive.”

What changes would you like to see the British press make?

Ray: “I want to say, leave it alone – there's other stuff to talk about. And at the same time, platform trans people. Live up to the promise of non bias that lots of places have. The main thing is just, everybody needs to calm down.”


Koby: “I'm a trans man; I came out when I was 17 and have been living as a man for the past seven years. I feel like it's become way more mainstream to hate on trans people. It used to feel like the transphobia I saw in the media was just from some article written by a small TERF blog reposted on Twitter for people to laugh about, but in the past few months I can't bring myself to laugh about articles being published. These (articles) are sometimes the first contact people get with the trans community, and it's filling them with monstrous ideas about us and our community. I think a lot about that article the Guardian posted; I remember reading the first paragraph and it saying, "The debate has become toxic..." But there is nothing to debate. We are talking about the rights of thousands of people to live as they need to be living.

“I feel huge pressure as a trans person at the moment to make myself as small as possible, to not make it obvious that I'm trans. This crushes me – it's an important part of who I am, and I love being trans. I've had a few issues at work with customers behaving poorly when noticing the pronoun badge I'm wearing says ‘he/him’ on it, which hurts. I love interacting with customers, but it becomes hard when you're unsure if they might spout abuse at you for having a simple badge on you, because you don't know where they've gotten their opinion on trans people from.”

What changes would you like to see the British press make?

Koby: “I would love them to stop giving people a voice who actively want to take away the rights of a minority group; stop publishing stories from TERFs; stop interviewing transphobes; stop letting them shout over us.”

“Stop publishing stories from TERFs; stop interviewing transphobes; stop letting them shout over us” – Koby, Bedfordshire


Anonymous: “I am non-binary, and the amount of people I know who I can see positively interacting with transphobic content feels like a sucker punch – it’s not just the writers (although it has been really depressing seeing feminist writers I’ve looked up to make the same transphobic comments as online trolls). It’s the way people I know share “gender critical” articles thinking that they’ve learnt something new and valuable; it’s the fact that the lives of people like me and my friends are so “debatable” to everyone.

“Someone I studied with wrote several articles about how transgender women are too aggressive, predatory, and biologically unstable to be part of women’s groups. I knew I was not going to be safe around this person if I came out. The feeling of instability really takes you. When I was young and gay and in the closet it was bad, but being a grown adult who is still scared of the exact same bigotry coming from different angles is really awful. I can’t come out. I want to come out, but I don’t feel safe or comfortable even talking around the subject of gender now – I feel like everyone suspects me of being ‘one of them’, and I can’t confirm their worst fears. My dad and I had a lengthy, awful argument about transgender women “masquerading” a couple of years ago when Caitlyn Jenner dropped her Vanity Fair cover – I honestly believe that any attempt on my behalf to come out, or make moves towards it, will be treated with the same dismissal.”

What changes would you like to see the British press make?

Anonmymous: “The press could start by burning the Murdoch empire to ashes. Get rid of thinkpiece culture. Stop allowing “columnists” to just say shit they saw on Twitter. Holding even a fraction of their work to account would probably help the whole situation – although until the British press is ready to abandon homophobia, sexism, racism, and ableism too, my pessimism remains strong.”


Anonymous: “I’m non-binary, or genderqueer. My family don’t know. My parents… they never say anything bad about people, but I can’t imagine them being happy to know that I was gay or trans. My brother, I’ve had some very difficult conversations with him, about trans people, and queer people. I found out a few years ago he was actually watching alt-right videos on YouTube. We have big arguments. I work in the legal department, hopefully one day I’ll be a lawyer… as a workplace, you wear a suit all day. I feel I would never need to talk to anyone there about (my gender identity). I have the support of my friends, but I’m careful about social media.

“Given that for most of my life… I’m presenting as this cis male guy, I think it would be silly to say (media transphobia) has affected my life – I’m sure there are people it’s horrible for. But seeing it every day, yeah, it is horrible. Especially the (press around the) GRA… It’s crazy to me, the traction that that managed to get. And the fact that Mumsnet is now evil – a place that used to be just for mums to chat about their kids, is now a horrible hate-filled place. The entire thing has been radicalised. There was also one article when a trans man and a trans woman got married, and the headline was literally ‘Tran and wife’. That was one of the most horrible things I’ve seen.

“I don’t know if it’s affected my life, but it does make me sad. Every day there’s an article – and yet it’s about 1% of the population. Like, how is your life so sad that this is such a big deal for you?”

What changes would you like to see the British press make?

Anonymous: “Have a bit of humanity. When you’re writing something, you’re writing to a very small number of people in this country. Just be kind, be caring. Surely as a journalist, you have to be empathetic, and able to put yourself in other people’s shoes.”

“I’ve found it affects my sense of safety and leads me to falsely think that the public are more hostile to trans people than they actually are. It can become difficult to remember how supportive the general public are when the media is so shockingly hostile” – Mia, Dorset


Mia Violet: “I’m a bisexual trans woman. I’ve noticed a staggering and relentless increase in transphobia in British media (in the past year). All the articles are always hitting the same tired beats and regurgitating the same lies and misinformation to drum up controversy. But the ones that stick out the most are when they try and attack children. Trans kids are such an incredibly vulnerable group; again and again studies show that respecting and supporting trans youth leads to an increase in their mental health and wellbeing, while denying them support has devastating effects.

“Since this onslaught started, I’ve had to dial back on my social media use, as my timeline has become littered with weekly examples of the British press printing nonsense headlines and hateful lies. It’s turned my social media accounts, which were formerly a haven to hang out and talk with other trans people, into a minefield. I’ve also found it affects my sense of safety and leads me to falsely think that the public are more hostile to trans people than they actually are. In reality, I don’t face transphobia in my day-to-day life despite working a public job, being visibly trans, and being completely open about my identity. I'm lucky in that I work in a relatively safe part of the country for queer people, but it can become difficult to remember how supportive the general public are when the media is so shockingly hostile.”

What changes would you like to see the British press make?

Mia Violet: “I want to see the British press start to use facts and empathy, which would immediately end their streak of transphobia. I want to see them take some responsibility for the power they have, and start reporting on trans issues accurately, using common sense instead of relying on hyperbolic lies to create controversy.”


Rosamund: “I’m a queer and non-binary person. One of the most distressing aspects to the media attack on trans people is that it has permeated our own communities. The presence of TERFs within LGBTQ+ and feminist spaces is so damaging and alienating for trans and gender-nonconforming people. Many of us spend the vast majority of our time in the world feeling hyper-visible, unsafe, or unrecognised, so when some of the few spaces that we felt safe in become hostile it feels at the least disheartening, and at the most isolating.

“(I was concerned by) the treatment of Munroe Bergdorf during her Genderquake appearance on Channel 4. I found the harassment that was being thrown at her by transphobic audience members on live TV, the fact that the production team did nothing to help, and then the way the news outlets dealt with it in such dismissive and simplistic terms, absolutely disgusting. This was also an example of how transphobia time and time again comes down on black trans women the hardest.

“The way that the atmosphere of transphobia has impacted me? I think it’s pushed me into becoming very conscious of what spaces I do/don’t have to perform gender in, so there are spaces that I am not ‘out’ in because I don’t feel comfortable or safe enough.”

What changes would you like to see the British press make?