Monday, 1 November 2010

Oi, journo, U R doing it wrong.

Even if you mean well.

Yes, it's the eternal "people who changed their sex" -trope. The latest incarnation of which surfaced in my morning newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat (1st of Nov, 2010, page D1. Sorry, can't find a copy available online, available as dead trees, or behind a paywall only). The story is about three people at different places in the trans universe - a trans woman, a trans man and a male transvestite (well, the male bit is never said aloud, it's just assumed. I suppose the writer has never heard of female transvestites). The story's stated aim is to enlighten the readers on what sex/gender roles look like, but in fact it doesn't analyze the sex/gender roles and the accompanying gender policing much at all. It just displays these three subjects in a human interest angle.

They're not treated too shabbily on the whole, but yet again, it's the framing of the story that sucks rotten eggs. The story is presented as "people who've experienced living as both a man and a woman..." (see page A3 if you've got the dead tree edition), there's the "changed their sex" -subheading (page D1: "Two people who've changed their sex and a transvestite tell what sex/gender roles look like") - in short, it's all about the voyeuristic, sensationalist cis mentality and blatant use of cissexist power to frame things.

I'm pretty sure the journalist in question means well. It isn't quite the hate-filled piece that misgenders and ungenders the trans subject constantly, but it fails nevertheless: the whole ciscentric premise that people really are of the sex/gender they're assigned at birth is just so full of fail. The story leaks at the seams: the trans woman is allowed to say she "had manhood pounded into her head" - but still the story assumes and reinforces that she actually was a boy/man (there's the stupid "biological male" -thing, too, but as that seems to be her own description of herself, I can't really comment on that), and can, therefore, tell what it was like to be a man. Not what it was like to be mistaken for a man. If she really was a man, why was the pounding necessary? And who, exactly, did the pounding? She herself, perhaps? I think not.

People assume all kinds of things about other people's sexes, genders and bodies. They assume, for example, that if someone "looks like a man", ze must be a man, and male, and assigned male at birth, too. That is simply not true. Looking like x is not the same as being x, and woman does not equal femininity does not equal female does not equal being assigned female at birth - all those bits may be related to each other, and they often are. But that's no universal rule. So it's rather stupid to assume that - and to assume that a trans man, for example, might know what it's like to be a woman.

I'd even hazard a guess that he does not know what being a woman is like, as he may never have been a woman. He's been mistaken for one, but that's not even remotely the same. Being of a sex is not the same as (mistakenly) being perceived as of a sex. The subject is not the same. I am a woman. You probably perceive me as a woman. My being and your perception probably agree, but even if they didn't, your perception does not automagically trump my being, not even if you force your perception on me.

So, dear journalists, please. Listen, carefully, to the people you interview. Especially when you're basically venturing out of your everyday experience (yeah, I'm assuming the journalist plus possible subeditors in question are cis - I think that's a pretty safe assumption). Your assumptions on how unfamiliar stuff works are, more often than not, simply wrong.

(Not that I'm expecting these things to change anytime soon - after all, I'm just a lone trans woman with a blog, and a cis journo with a big newspaper on her back, compared to me, is a bit like a soldier driving a battle tank towards a girl with a rock in her hand).

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