Kicking us when we’re down – the media and kiwi trans people

This post was originally published on "On The Left"

There is no small irony in a large media organisation, culpable in public abuse of trans people, turning around to them and saying "give us your stories to publish on our for profit website for free". Is editorial oversight in today's media so little that they can maintain that kind of cognitive dissonance?

Let us be clear: the media plays a big part in public perception of minorities. Sympathetic portrayals do much to humanise us over stereotype filled shock pieces. Yet New Zealand media still hasn't managed to climb out of tabloid-esque reporting on trans people.

All the major publishers continue to make the same basic mistakes despite the efforts of many to improve them. I myself have continually engaged with Fairfax via Stuff.co.nz, having sent letters to their chief editor about their "dead-naming" and misgendering of Julianne Kramer, a helicopter pilot killed in a crash two years ago. I have attempted to get their editorial style guide made public to provide critique and improve their coverage of trans issues. Unfortunately I have been stonewalled by them at every turn.

Every article about a trans person becomes almost predictable enough to make a drinking game out of, their birth name will be mentioned despite its utter irrelevance. "Born a man" will likely be used in reports on trans women like we emerge fully formed from the womb with full beards before slapping on a dress and a wig. Inconsistent pronouns will be used, utterly confusing everyone reading the article. Genital surgery will be the defining factor determining trans people's "new" gender. In the case of crimes against trans people, we will inevitably be blamed for somehow deceiving and thus being culpable in our own assaults. Trans women will be hypersexualised, especially if we're sex workers or non-Pakeha.

I and many others in the New Zealand transgender community have very little faith in the media as a result and the public perception of trans people continues to be negative. This is despite the visibility of people like Georgina Beyer, the first trans person in the world to become a member of parliament. In many ways it feels like trans issues have stagnated or have even got worse since then.

Waiting times for access to life saving hormone treatments are long and abuse in the health sector of trans people is rife. Complaints are not an option due to the lack of alternatives. Surgery access is even more out of reach than it was before and I'll be dead before the waiting list is clear, even if it does start moving again. These surgeries have been affirmed to be medically necessary for those who want them by virtually every major health organisation including WPATH, WHO, and both the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association. The cost of them is insignificant compared to the cost of trying to treat what is effectively a neurological condition as a mental health issue. Yet despite that, the Ministry of Health refuses to even think about doing a review of the current process.

Our human rights have been deemed "controversial" by the government, despite assurances that we're supposedly already covered in the Human Rights Act. With marriage equality passing, conservative groups like Bob McCoskrie's Family First are now targeting trans children, painting them as sexual deviants without so much as a titter of outrage from the mainstream media (heck, they keep giving him a soapbox for his abusive rants).

Before the election I attended a non-partisan community consultation facilitated by the Green Party's Jan Logie. It did not paint a rosy picture of life for trans people in a country that keeps wanting to pat itself on the back for how socially progressive we supposedly are. Every single trans person there had a horrific story to tell about the abuses they've suffered at society's hands and we were the "lucky" ones.

Every one of us is a fighter, we have to be to survive. And so many of us won't or don't. We're a small community and we all know someone who has lost their battle. This isn't because of some mental illness inherent to our condition but induced through minority stress. 41% of the trans population in the US have attempted to take their own lives, that horrifying number rising when factoring in race and the all too common sexual and violent assault. No one really knows what that figure is like in New Zealand, it's something we avoid talking about because we've all thought about it.

We all need to step up and do better, not just our immediate friends and family but the media, the government and the health system. Reports from studies of teenagers in schools both here and in the US show that 1.2-1.3% of them consider themselves transgender. That's a large number of people population wise and not an amount that can continue to be ignored.