Crossing the Line? Reporting Transgender

Networking group Women in Media WA held an event examining the representation of transgender people in the media. The event was held at The Dominion League in Northbridge and featured a panel with both professional and personal knowledge on the trans community. Louise Pratt, a former WA senator, spoke of the challenges she faced when her partner was forced to transition in the limelight due to Louise’s position. Tina Ross transitioned in 2012 and was brave enough to tell her story. Dr Rob Cover from UWA, author of “Queer Youth Suicide, Culture and Identity: Unbelievable Lives?” shared his expertise in gender.


Key Terms

The three terms you should familiarise yourself with when writing about gender diversity as a PR practitioner or journalist are ‘transgender’, ‘non-binary gender’ and ‘intersex’. If someone is transgender it typically means they identify as a gender that is different to the one assigned to them at birth. People with a non-binary gender or gender queer do not see themselves as exclusively a man or woman. Gender is fluid for gender queer individuals. Intersex means that biologically a person has both male and female characteristics whether it be their hormones, chromosomes, internal reproductive system or external genitals.

The Problem

In the past trans people were seen as ‘freaks’, the butt of the joke and in some cases even dangerous. Dr Rob Cover gave the example of the serial killer in the 1991 film ‘Silence of the Lambs’. Whilst Rob said there has been significant change in the past 5-7 years there is definitely still room for improvement. Many public relations practitioners and reporters are well meaning but can unwillingly perpetuate negative stereotypes.

  • Objectifying transgender people in an attempt to increase listeners, ratings or readership.
    Hayley Davis who facilitated the discussion gave the perfect example of this exploitation in the media coverage of the murder of transwoman Mayang Prasetyo. Mayang was killed and dismembered by her partner. The Courier-Mail chose to run the headline “Monster Chef and the She Male” with an image of Mayang in a bikini and repeatedly mentioned that she was a sex worker. Though the Australian Press Council deemed the story offensive and a breach press standards it illustrates we still have a long way to go.
  • Only showing the challenges to being trans and the “struggle with no end”
    Dr Rob Cover spoke of the danger of only presenting the negative side of being transgender. He said people are likely to commit suicide when they feel they don’t belong and they cannot see a future for themselves. This highlights the medias responsibility to show diverse representations of trans people, that it is not all doom and gloom, so the trans community can see how resilient they are. Dr Rob Cover praised the Amazon TV series ‘Transparent’ in their depiction of a strong, resilient, caring transwoman.
  • Not including a trans voice in the discussion of gay rights
    Louise Pratt expressed her disappointment that trans people were often left out of coverage on issues such as gay marriage. She spoke of several laws that are prejudiced towards the trans community that are often not bought into the public sphere by those working in PR and journalism such as the fact that an individual has to have major, invasive, irreversible genital surgery to be covered by the anti-discrimination act.
  • Asking members of the trans community inappropriate questions
    Louise Pratt said she felt stressed and traumatised by some of the stories that were reported on her and her partner. Louise made it clear it was not acceptable to ask someone about their genitals and encouraged those working in the media to make their interview subject feel comfortable.

The Solution

  • Positive gender diverse role models
    Tina Ross communicated her wish that she had known about transsexual US tennis player Renée Richards when she started to struggle with her gender. She recalls thinking “Am I the only one? What’s wrong with me?” Tina said she would have liked to have seen more role models who were not in the sex industry. Dr Rob Cover said he would like to see more representations of trans people in the media where they are not just pigeonholed for their gender.
  • Educating both children and adults about gender diversity
    Tina Ross commended programs in schools that educate children on gender diversity but emphasised the need to inform adults on the trans community. The panel said before we can change representations of trans people in the media we need to change how people think.
  • Being fair and ethical in producing content on transgender individuals
    Respect people’s history and pronouns and make use of the numerous resources available on gender diversity. Tina Ross explained for some trans people talking about their past can be very upsetting so let them guide the conversation or focus on the person they are today. When it comes to what people prefer to be called Tina said the safest thing to do is simply ask. The panel also suggested putting the number to QLife at the end of articles featuring a transgender person.

    The contact number for QLife the counselling and referral service for the LBTIQA community is 1800 184 527.

The #LikeAGirl campaign reminds me of why I find PR so fascinating

Some of you might have already seen it, heard of it or spoken about it, I admit that I might be a little slow to jump on the bandwagon on this one, but I have just discovered this amazing video which is part of a campaign run by Always (feminine hygiene product brand for you who are not familiar with it). I think it came out last month and it is going viral as we speak with the hashtag #LikeAGirl. Always have teamed up with the award-winning film maker Lauren Greenfield to illustrate the decrease in self confidence that many young women go through around puberty and how sayings such as “run like a girl, or hit like a girl” may affect this. Most of us can relate to hearing and even using these expressions as insults, however in this video, the viewer get asked the question why ”run like a girl” can’t also mean win the race?

This campaign does remind me of others such as the Dove “Real Beauty” campaign and other branded female empowerment campaigns, it is nothing new with other words and some people might hate the concept. You might argue that these brands try to exploit real issues for their own revenue. However, I am a sucker for it.

I am usually a little reluctant to watch videos online as when they finish I feel like I have just wasted two or three minutes of my life, most of them are utterly boring. However this one made me smile, and then it made me a little sad and worried to be honest. Because it is happening all around me and it is so common that I don’t’ even notice when “like a girl” is used as something often silly and negative. After watching the video I felt determined to make this change.

When this determination took over I managed to stop for a second and realize what was going on, and I thought to myself “This is really clever”. Always managed to get me just where they wanted me. On their website Always write “We’re kicking off an epic battle to make sure that girls everywhere keep their confidence throughout puberty and beyond, and making a start by showing them that doing it #LikeAGirl is an awesome thing – Join the movement”. This is great PR work! Just that thing, “Join the movement”. They make me want to take part of this epic battle as they call it. So I do have to admit, Always have managed to get me so touched by their work that yes, I will go on twitter and use the hashtag, and maybe even buy their brand over other brands from now on. The best thing is that they managed to do this without showing a single product in the video, and this is where PR comes in. They got me because they made me believe that they are a good company, sincerely concerned about young girls confidence. (I told you – I am a sucker for it). Campaigns like this do remind me of why I find PR so fascinating. What do we do and how do we do it to get people to love our brand? Great campaign, great PR work Always.

Jenny Ljunggren