By Fallon Fox and Parker Marie Molloy
Originally published on Advocate.com June 18 2014 4:00 AM ET
Why is it that when transgender women are interviewed, the media so frequently says we were "born a man?" No other people are ever treated as though they were born fully grown adults.
Can someone point to a single example in the media when a cisgender person is referred to as being "born a man" or "born a woman?" If someone discusses their birth, does anyone say, "When I was born a man?" Or, do they simply say, "I was born?"
Go ahead and Google the phrase "born a man." You'll notice article upon article, page upon page of typically unflattering stories about trans women. And you'll be hard-pressed to find any articles about cisgender individuals in the mix, as typically, it's given that cisgender women and cisgender men are not born men or women, but rather, they're born babies.
Trans women are not born babies — according to the media, at least. We're born "men."
This framing only sensationalizes the identities and experiences of trans individuals as nothing more than a hook to reel the audience into a world closely resembling that of a carnival freak show. This framing in itself highlights the physical changes undergone by trans people and ignores the fact that the people they're referring to are genuine, lovable, normal individuals.
"Fallon Fox was born a man" inserts unnecessary hurdles in the way of people searching for the truth. "Fallon Fox was born a man" inserts the necessary doubt into the minds of those looking for any excuse to brush trans existence to the side as being "abnormal." "Fallon Fox was born a man" inserts suspicion of medically debunked "advantages" trans athletes supposedly have.
When asking a number of media personalities why they continue to use this troublesome terminology, more often than not, they give milquetoast answers like, "The editors feel saying it any other way wastes space in trying to explain it all. So, we shorten it to 'born a man.'"
Really? "Born a man" is three words, and "assigned male at birth" is four words. Say that, or even better, how about simply focusing on who I am and not who you think I was? These excuses sound to trans people like nothing more than laziness. More often than not, our desire to be respected is trumped by a journalist's need to frame transgender people in a way their readers might find intriguing.
And really, what's the point in trying to tell our stories if they're only going to be ignored and reframed to fit someone else's preexisting idea of who we are? It's tiring being shouted down, discounted, and treated as though we're mere objects in some editor's thought experiment. So trans people are taught to smile, to not dare push back against misinformation for fear of not coming off as "understanding enough" or "polite enough" to the very people who refuse to empathize.
In public we put on a polite face while on the inside, privately, frustration and anger build. Pushing back, even in the most polite of ways, is interpreted as being "critical of our allies" and "not focusing on the 'real issues.'" Truly, though, being treated with respect and humanity is a "real issue."
There are a lot of ways to accurately describe the experiences of trans women, but "born a man" isn't one of them. So journalists, editors, producers, and allies, please do some research. If you're not sure how to refer to someone, ask them. And if someone requests that you not refer to them in a certain way — whether it has to do with "born a man" framing or the use of words considered slurs — demonstrate that you see them as a human worthy of respect and rework your framing and language.
Born a man? Not so much.
FALLON FOX is the first known openly transgender professional mixed martial arts fighter. Follow her on Twitter @FallonFox
PARKER MARIE MOLLOY is the founder of Park That Car and works as a freelance writer. She has contributed writing to Rolling Stone, Salon, The Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo, and The New York Times as well as The Advocate. Follow her on Twitter @ParkerMolloy.