Op-ed: Why I'm Still Angry

Why transgender people and their supporters should be unsatisfied with their representation in the news media.

BY Rebecca Juro

November 13 2013 12:48 AM ET

Over the years, many people, both in and out of the trans community, have said to me “Becky, you're so negative ... you're always complaining about the losses and the failures, but you never celebrate our victories.” I'm told that I should be more positive; that we've come a long way since I first came out in the late '90s, and I should make more of an effort to find positive things to write about and talk about on my radio show.

Perhaps those people are right, but they're also wrong. Here's why:

When I came out as trans and began living as a woman full-time in 1997, it wasn't an easy time to be a trans person. The Internet was still in its infancy. With the exception of The Advocate and a few other gay-centric publications, there wasn't much media out there for anyone in the LGBT community, much less trans people specifically. What was available focused almost exclusively on gays and lesbians, and most of these media refused to give even a passing nod to the existence of trans people — that is, when they weren't bashing us or misappropriating our community martyrs like Brandon Teena as their own for perceived political gain.

Finally, some trans people decided that we'd waited long enough for the mainstream gay media to recognize that we exist and are a part of this community, and so we started making our own media, by trans people, for trans people, and covering the topics and issues trans people actually care about most, not what some nontrans editor or producer thinks we should care about.

I was one of those people. In the late '90s, before the advent of blogs, I created an email list called “Becky's List” where I presented op-eds and commentary I'd written about trans-relevant politics and other issues. A few years later, I teamed up with another trans woman to create and cohost Trans-Sister Radio, which was (I believe) the very first Internet radio show specifically focusing on trans people and the issues that matter most in our lives.

It's been almost a decade and a half since I began doing this work, but the need for it hasn't lessened one bit over all those years. That is essentially why I’m still angry.

Despite our political progress, our rising stock in media, the trans celebrities who have emerged, and the previously untold stories of discrimination that are now gaining attention, it's still rare to see a trans person presented in mainstream media in any form. And I don’t mean just as an average person, an activist, an expert, or authority in some field that has nothing to do with being trans. With very few exceptions, we're still relegated to the status of human-interest curiosity when we're not being completely ignored by the mainstream news media, and in some cases even by our own community’s media.

Right-wing media like Fox News bash trans people with abandon, but their attacks on trans people generally go unnoticed and unreported by outlets that define themselves as progressive and LGBT-inclusive. The same biased reporting would not go unscrutinized if it targeted gay and lesbian subjects.

What's worse is that there doesn't seem to be much interest in changing this reality. Mainstream media overflows with detailed analysis of every minor detail of the marriage movement, while even major developments in the fight for workplace equality (the issue most important to trans and most working-class LGB people) go underreported or even ignored by those same media, from which many of us get our news.

Is it really any wonder that marriage has garnered so much political capital in Congress and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act hadn't even gotten a vote in the full Senate in 17 years until just last week? We're still waiting for major media figures who cover LGBT issues regularly, such as Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes, to cover the issues of transgender people. Even mainstream outlets that do focus on the entire LGBT community rarely staff transgender writers and editors.

Is this really what our own community’s media defines as inclusion? Is this really what mainstream media defines as progressive and LGBT-inclusive?

Trans people are not clowns, nor are we are not human-interest subjects or sensationalist fodder for MSNBC. We are no longer content to simply be ignored by those who claim to speak on our behalf in the mainstream in favor of focusing on those in wealthier and more politically popular segments of the LGBT population.

Trans people share a common bond with those who, like ourselves, know what it is like to be attacked, vilified, and discriminated against simply because we're different. We expect those who carry the mantle of representing us in media to speak authentically on our issues, to present our views fairly, and not rely solely on those outside our community who have neither the education nor the lived experience to be able to discuss these issues from a first-person perspective.

Hell yes, I'm still angry, and if you care about a fully inclusive LGBT and progressive media that actually presents the values it claims to embrace, you should be too. If we wouldn't stand for this kind of behavior if it came from a politician, why should we be any more tolerant when it comes from those in the media who go out of their way to say they're on our side?


REBECCA JURO is a journalist and radio host. Her work has been published by The Bilerico Project, the Washington Blade, and Gay City News. The Rebecca Juro Show streams live Thursdays  from 7 to 10 p.m. Eastern.

Tags: ENDA, Commentary

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