Tuesday, 1 November 2022

Read All About It: The Harm Of Anti-Trans Bias In The Media

"Having a child is to forever live with your heart walking around outside of your body".

This quote sums up motherhood for me. That feeling of absolute over-riding love for your child, coupled with the simultaneous terror and anxiety of knowing that they are inevitably going to be in danger of being hurt in life - both emotionally and physically.

This is true for parents of any child. I feel that fear and anxiety deeply for each of my 3 children.

But with my trans child - there's the added terror of knowing that there are people in the world who want to hurt her just for being who she is. Lots of them. 

There are people who want to harm her physically. There are people who want to limit and remove her rights. There are people who want to make her life harder.

Most days, I will stumble across hate and misinformation online about people like my daughter.

Sometimes that hate will be on Twitter, or in the comments sections of Facebook. Sometimes it will be in the red-top newspapers that I would never choose to read but find myself confronted with on the internet regardless.

But more and more frequently, that hate and wilful misinformation is cropping up in more unexpected places. Places that I feel are even more dangerous.

In the last fortnight alone, I have seen three of the most vile hate-filled articles about transgender people on the websites of widely read news sources like the BBC, The Guardian and The Times. Publications that most people would consider to be reputable and trustworthy.

One such article in The Times made claims about the governments plans for the treatment of trans children which turned out to be completely false...but how many people saw the headline and didn't bother to fact check it? How many of us do fact check the news we digest from supposedly reputable sources? Don't most of us believe what we read?

So while the content of that article was false, how many people are now walking around having had their opinions and beliefs about what is the appropriate treatment for trans children changed by the misinformation they absorbed from it?

The anti-trans bias that undoubtedly exists in the mainstream media carries with it such danger for children like mine. It "others" them, it calls into question their rights and I have no doubt that it impacts their safety and acceptance within their communities and even within their families.

Since we informed people about my daughters gender dysphoria 3 years ago, I - like most parents of trans children - have worked hard to educate my family and friends about what it means to be transgender. I've tried my best to inform them of the guidance from experts on affirming gender identity and what the research shows about best outcomes for trans kids - this is not always easy to do, and even now I know that there are people within my own extended family who do not  support our decision to affirm our child's gender and do not understand or accept who she is. 

Articles like this make it much harder. Because how can we help those around us to understand why we're affirming our child, when some of the worlds biggest news publications are churning out false information that contradicts what we're telling them?

These articles are making the lives of trans people harder. By re-affirming the anti-trans bias of existing transphobes, yes...but also by potentially making supportive family members and friends question what they thought they knew.

Last week, another popular publication ran an article about the trend of "woke" children's books, which it claimed are "pushing an agenda onto our children."

The article focused on books which sit with pride of place on my own children's bookshelves - books like "Anti Racist Baby" and "I am Jazz" - books which aim to teach children, in an age-appropriate way, about issues like racism and how to counter it. Books that aim to educate children on the different types of people they are likely to meet in their lifetime - people of different ethnicities, sexualities, gender identities and faiths, people with different abilities, people of different shapes and sizes.

But rather than seeing these books as a resource to help children understand the world around them and the people they are sharing it with, the article called them "Indoctrination" and "Brain washing".

But how can it be indoctrination and brain washing to allow children to know the facts about our society? The fact is that not everybody you meet in life is heterosexual or cisgender...so given that as human beings we tend to fear what we're not familiar with, isn't it a good thing to teach them about this fact from a young age? Isn't this how we dispel fear and misinformation, and teach acceptance and tolerance?

Isn't it indoctrination to teach them in ways that uphold white supremacy and heteronormativity? The world is not made up exclusively of white, straight, cisgender people so isn't it "brainwashing" to pretend that it is?

My child is not transgender because they read about transgender people in a children's book. But reading about transgender people in a children's book did help to reassure my child that there is nothing wrong with them - that they are not alone and that there are other people in the world who feel the same way that they do. 

Reading about transgender people will not turn your child into a trans person anymore than reading The Gruffalo will turn them into a big hairy monster with purple prickles on their back....but maybe it will stop them from calling my child unkind names when they meet her. Maybe it will stop them from fearing her because they don't understand her. Maybe it will make life that bit easier for her and other children like her. 

I don't know what can be done about the onslaught of anti-trans articles in the media, and the devastating effect it will undoubtedly have on the safety and mental health of transgender people...but I do know that on an individual level, we can all do our part to counteract it by being discerning with the news we read....questioning it and fact checking it before accepting it as truth, and questioning the motive that the media has for encouraging such division and fear amongst us. 

I know that by teaching our children to be tolerant and accepting, educating them and ourselves on the beautiful diversity in our society - that we can ease that heart-outside-body fear just a little bit more for ourselves, too.

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