One of the women I work with at Feministing.com, Jos Truitt (Prof. Bilger & I actually brought her to do a workshop at CMC last year!) just wrote a piece for the Columbia Journalism Review analyzing the media coverage on Bruce Jenner based on speculation that Jenner may be transitioning. She presents a great explanation of the problematic ways the media is approaching this story.
Some excerpts from her article, "Bruce Jenner coverage doesn’t accurately represent the trans community":
People seem to treat reporting on Jenner as absolving themselves of the violence and oppression directed at low-income trans women and women of color, Emma Caterine, a writer and anti-criminalization advocate, pointed out to me—by covering Jenner, and prominent trans women like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, the argument goes, the trans population gains visibility. But there are very serious issues facing trans women that require coverage beyond reporting on rumors about a celebrity.
While rumors about Bruce Jenner have reached a fever pitch recently, they began in tabloids and entertainment magazines a few years ago. With family members now starting to comment on and off the record, these rumors have made their way into major news publications. This speculation has created an odd situation where press is writing about Jenner transitioning and being a woman as if it is news while continuing to use male pronouns, because we do not know for certain what Jenner’s status is minus a first-person update.
When I interviewed Mixed Martial Arts fighter and out trans woman Fallon Fox for The Guardian, she told me, “for journalists it’s gone far more than speculation. They snicker, pointing out certain aspects of Bruce’s jaw, face, or whatever in order for people to gawk at and laugh at.”
News media is complicit in the ways these tropes are deployed, often writing about murder victims in salacious ways, dehumanizing victims and perpetuating the attitude that these women “had it coming.”
Editors, publishers, producers, and writers seem to have a great interest in stories about Jenner and relatively little interest in reporting on all this anti-trans violence.
Because many do not want to comment on this speculation, and any trans woman the press can find is being treated as an expert, misinformation from individuals who lack relevant expertise or media preparedness has inevitably made it into the press.
News media has a responsibility to report and inform about important stories. Instead of spreading negative stereotypes, we could do real reporting that humanizes trans women and brings attention to the issues they face. We should do our job.