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The Transgender Narrative & Media
We need more nuanced transgender narratives in mainstream media.
I’m getting sick and tired of the one-sided reporting on transgender issues and the lack of critique of said reporting from the general public. As it stands, there’s next to no nuance in the bigger, more “official” discussion of anything transgender. It’s all angled towards fearmongering and often outright misinformation, all in the name of “showing both sides” and then actively suppressing the voices of the actual people from the trans community.
It’s not a new tactic, a lot of the straw man arguments are the same ones that were being used against gay people in the 80s. Which is why it boggles my mind why there aren’t more people questioning the narratives presented in the media and within politics.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic the past few months, especially with the recent witch hunt of the most knowledgeable doctor within the field here in Norway (Esben Esther Pirelli Benestad who themselves is non-binary) and the one private surgeon doing top surgery in the country (the same person who did both mine and my partner’s top surgeries).
I’ve been on a roller coaster of despair for what feels like years now due to the world seemingly leaning more and more towards right wing extremes all over the place, and how LGBTQ+ in general and trans people in particular have been thrown under the bus. Again and again.
Simultaneously, I don’t think the majority of people (especially not here in the Nordics) have anything against trans people, and my lived experience supports this. The anti-trans people and terfs seem to be a (very) vocal minority, but the problem lies with how the media amplifies their voices and refuse to offer up counter arguments from actual trans and LGBTQ+ people.
There are positive narratives out there, and a fair amount of them, but very little of it shows up in more established news media and, at least here, what does show up doesn’t get pushed to the front page like the negative and “concerned” narratives often do.
This isn’t new and it’s a big problem.
“It is us, the consumers of that media, who get to decide how those lives and stories are interpreted, how the narratives will play out. Kim Petras wins Grammies, April Ashley had her life destroyed. Brianna Ghey potentially was murdered because she was her authentic self. Yet how you empathise and engage with their stories will depend on the media you consume and the narrative that is shaped. Their personal truths come down to your personal understanding, and it is up to us all to fight back against transphobic narratives that demonise and shun trans folk.”
While I do have quite a lot to say on the topic as a genderqueer/trans person, I would like to try and focus more on positive narratives and nuance.
Because in the end, trans people are just that; people. Just like everybody else.
For me personally, I’m now roughly two years post top surgery and testosterone and it has, obviously, been life changing.
I still have my struggles, I’m still dealing with depression and anxiety, but now I don’t have to deal with the additional dysphoria nagging at me in addition to the rest. It’s been a bit of an adventure discovering just how my body has changed and how I interact with the world. There are things I’m not all that thrilled about, like hair growth in all the wrong places and the fact that my voice isn’t stable enough for me to sing much anymore, but I have so many more things to be excited about. Not the least being not having to deal with painful periods and insane back pain because of heavy breasts. Like, seriously, if you haven’t dealt with having breasts, try running around with two 1.5kg weights strapped to your chests, with the straps digging into your shoulders at every turn. It’s not pleasant and having to put up with that for almost 20 years was quite enough thankyouverymuch.
Testosterone has also had some really surprising effects; I used to have really vivid dreams as a kid and that faded as I got older, but now I’m back to having them again as an example.
And then there’s the thing that so few people talk properly about in big media outlets: the euphoria. The euphoria of finally being able to look in the mirror and see something more in line with who you know yourself to be, of seeing how you’re slowly becoming more yourself. Of feeling more like yourself. The thrill of rediscovering a voice that feels more like your own.
I drew this comic back in September in 2017 after having attended the local pride parade in costume as Damien from Dream Daddy, waving a trans flag around. I had been having flashes of body/gender euphoria for a little while whenever I cosplayed certain male characters (notably Percy from Critical Role, Damien from Dream Daddy, and my first forays into McCree from Overwatch). I didn’t quite understand it then, but I was experiencing glimpses of possibilities, of things that I vibed with and that I could explore outside of cosplay too. It’s an ongoing process, but I’m slowly getting closer to having a body that feels like mine.
I’m so incredibly thankful that I have a network of compassionate, kind, and supportive friends and chosen family that have enabled me to get the help I needed for this to happen. And all the people I’ve met and the friends who I haven’t talked to in years but recently reconnected with who have all been incredibly chill with the changes, taking my new name and pronouns in stride, have been absolutely amazing.
Then there’s the grace, compassion, kindness, and respect that I’ve been met with from my surgeon, and the psychologist, and sexologist that helped refer me, several times, to several different official instances before I went private, has honestly been life saving.
Just being seen, understood and having my bodily autonomy respected is huge. The bodily autonomy bit doubly so, as I’ve spent roughly 35 years going through all the shitty hoops women have to jump through to get anything done with their bodies that isn’t enhancing the sex characteristics.
But these kinds of perspectives are rarely shown in big news articles. It seems it’s rare journalists even talk to actual trans people or to the people sitting on the knowledge and competence within the field other than to twist their words to fit the sensationalist narrative.
I’m glad that there are a fair amount of publications (especially online) actually publishing trans friendly articles and featuring positive narratives, I just wish the bigger mainstream publications would take responsibility so we wouldn’t have to rely so heavily on the masses having to actively seek out articles to educate themselves. Because let's face it, a lot of people just don’t do that.
That said, one of my favourite things that I’ve stumbled over in the past months have been ND Stevenson’s I’m Fine I’m Fine Just Understand
It’s funny, relatable, thoughtful and gives some nuanced insight into what a trans person’s existence can be.
I also love that there are so many webcomics out there about trans and generally queer narratives, both autobiographical and fictional. There are so many interesting perspectives to explore!
And there’s of course Laura Kate Dale’s anthology Gender Euphoria, which collects, as said on the cover, “stories of joy from trans, non-binary, and intersex writers”. I highly recommend reading it to get a sense for the more joyful sides of what a trans narrative can be and how people outside of the gender binary experience gender.
To round this off before it gets even more rambling, I urge you to not take big news outlet’s articles on trans themes at face value. Instead I encourage you to ask questions, look for other sources, and more importantly; talk to actual people within the trans community. Be curious, respectful, and compassionate. We’re all just human beings in the end.
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If you would like me to write more about my experiences and thoughtsaround these kinds of topics, leave a comment and let me know what you’re curious about!
I will likely write more about these things either way, but you can help steer the conversation by commenting ;)