Confronting Transphobia on Twitter and Beyond
Over the past couple weeks there has been a multitude of discriminatory messages against transgender and gender non-conforming people in the media and subsequent outcries from transgender activists and allies.
The mess all began with British journalist, Suzanne Moore’s essay about "the power of female anger." In her piece she throws a cheap shot at those considerate of gender identity politics. “We are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape—that of a Brazilian transsexual,” she wrote.
The comment created an ongoing firestorm on Twitter, as readers continue to point out what is a blatantly transphobic insinuation. Not only is the comment exceptionally "othering," placing transgender women as a counterexample to "real" women, but Moore could have at least used the preferred terminology.
Moore did not apologize for the transphobic tweet. “People can just f* off really. Cut their dicks off and be more feminist than me. Good for them,” digging herself deeper into the bigoted hole she created.
To compound the chaos, Moore’s friend and fellow journalist, Julie Burchill, wrote a piece for the Observer in defense of Moore, titled “Transsexuals should cut it out." Burchill’s article culminates in an all-out attack on the transgender community, declaring her friend was “monstered” by a “bunch of dicks in chicks’ clothing” on Twitter. The piece was consequently removed from the Observer’s site after gaining international attention for its poor discriminatory nature.
If this kind of hate speech had been spewed about any other marginalized group, the backlash would arguably be more catastrophic. But sadly, transphobia in media is not that uncommon.
In one week alone Fox News racked up two different offenses with the transgender community. On Jan. 11 the “O'Reilly Factor” featured a segment on Michelle Kosilek, a Massachusetts inmate who has been undergoing a male-to-female transition during her time in prison. O'Reilly repeatedly referred to Michelle as “he” and mocked her appearance, suggesting she wasn’t attractive enough to be sexually assaulted. On Jan. 13 Fox supplemented an article on transgender healthcare with an image from the film “Mrs. Doubtfire.” The distasteful image portrayed Robin Williams dressed as his elderly female double, grasping her breasts with saucepan lids. The image has now been removed.
Transgender individuals face deep marginalization that profoundly affects all areas of their lives. A report released in 2011, “Injustice at Every Turn” surveyed 6,500 transgender and gender non-conforming individuals across the U.S., producing startling findings. Transgender individuals live in poverty at nearly four times the national rate. More than 25 percent reported that they’ve lost a job due to their gender identity, and they face alarming rates of harassment and violence. And perhaps the most upsetting statistic of all, 41 percent have attempted suicide, which is more than 26 times the rate (1.6 percent) of the general population.
“Trans people are very much a minority group, diverse like any other. Not every cis-person has even heard of the existence of trans people. So when the media misrepresents trans people in such outrageous, misinformed, discriminatory ways – sometimes that is the only source of information to some people.” University of Puget Sound transgender student, Khai A, told Campus Progress.
He believes education on transgender identity is essential for liberation, “With reliable, honest information available and increased education on trans issues, there will be less misinformation and people will be less inclined to believe negative and hateful portrayals in the media.”
Journalists and pundits like Moore, Burchill and O’Reilly all demonstrate a deep lack of understanding how messages in the media influence and affect society. Over the last couple years there have been progressive strides made for queer equality, with same-sex marriage triumphing by popular vote in two states in November’s election, and last year’s repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
But we can't leave the transgender community behind. The successful repeal of DADT still does not allow transgender people to openly serve in the military, and clearly, transgender discrimination remains rampant across popular media. It is important for privileged cisgendered people to be willing to vocally confront cases of transphobia, calling out instances of discrimination and speaking up to those who are blind to their own bigotry.
Anya Callahan is a reporter for Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @LezAnya.