When it comes to covering the transgender community, the media get it wrong, according to “Covering the Transgender Community” panelists at the Excellence in Journalism Conference.
“We’re human beings,” said panelist and activist Jada Cabrera. “Number one, first and foremost, before you say I’m a man, before you say I’m a woman and before you say I’m anything else, remember: if you prick me, I bleed.”
Cabrera is referring to the way members of the transgender community are misrepresented when the media group them into dehumanizing stereotypes.
According to the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), a journalist’s duty is to follow the Code of Ethics and treat “sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.”
Panelist Sy’ria Jackson said journalists make assumptions about “people of trans experience,” rather than treating them as individuals with unique experiences outside their trans identity — as human beings.
“They think we’re all out to get them,” Jackson said. “You know, if this person is this then the societal norm is that this is going to happen.”
People who are transgender are often stereotyped as sex workers, and some of the time that is an accurate depiction, but Cabrera attributes the stigma to the high rate of homelessness among transgender youth. Often when transgender youth come out to their family, they experience rejection, and end up on the streets, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. The Centers for Disease Control reports that “some transgender people who experience poverty rely on sex work to meet their basic survival needs.” The National Health Care for the Homeless Council reports one in five transgender youth are in unstable living situations and at risk for becoming homeless. In order to support themselves on the street, Cabrera says sometimes “girls and guys have to engage in unsavory actions.”
As a person of trans experience, Jackson was intrigued by the show “I Am Cait” that documented Caitlyn Jenner’s transition. Jackson thought it was “absolutely genius that they picked it up and they showcased it to the world.”
Although she appreciates the coverage, Jackson said she is no Caitlyn Jenner. “How does Caitlyn compare to Sy’ria?” Jackson asked. “Unfortunately not. Because Sy’ria is not an Olympic Gold Medalist. She is not in anybody’s media box.”
Panels like this create a necessary dialog between those who cover the community and those who live in it. The panelists asked the audience to cover the transgender community with respect and remember, although they are all transgender, they are also individual humans with individual experiences.
“My story is different from Jazielle’s story,” Jackson said, referring to the third panelist, Jazielle Noelle. “Jazielle’s story is different from Jada’s story. We all are transgender and we all have a story.”
Respecting their human experience before their transgender identity will lead to a more accurate story and promote better representation of the transgender community in the media. “Respect goes a hell of a long way,” Cabrera said. “Approach a person of trans experience with respect and you will get the story.”