Mainstream media erasure of transgender experience

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There’s a lot of talk lately about positive trans experiences in the media. Caitlyn Jenner has taken over the media in the last few weeks. I like to focus on the positive in my engagement with my blogs and vlogs. But positivity should never be at the expense of the erasure of negative experiences. I see positivity as a glass half full way of looking at life. The negative experiences are still there, they have to be acknowledged and dealt with, but ultimately I want to live my life looking forwards, not backwards.

The problem with the mainstream media is that they get it all wrong. They focus solely on the positives at the expense of the negative, unless it’s the sensationalism of someone’s personal story. Recently there has been a huge emphasis on Caitlyn Jenner’s story. While I applaud Caitlyn for coming out so publicly – it cannot have been easy to share her journey with the world – the media emphasis on her experience is covered in such a way that it erases all the negative experiences that trans people, particularly trans women of colour, have to live with. The murder of so many trans women of colour in the past few years is horrendous. But the mainstream media is yet to pick up on this or mention these deaths. This is despite the fact that covering Caitlyn Jenner’s story would have been a perfect opportunity to highlight the discrimination of so many other trans women who do not have the wealth or privilege that Caitlyn does.

Then there’s the issue of non-binary transgender media coverage. The mainstream media seem to have misunderstood what non-binary gender actually is. The fact that Ruby Rose and Miley Cyrus are held up as models for non-binary transgender people demonstrates that there’s a long way to go before mainstream media accurately depicts the experiences of transgender people. As a non-binary person, I find it exceedingly frustrating to see Ruby Rose held up as a role model for people like me. Ruby Rose dresses in a way that challenges gender roles; however, my non-binary identity is not based on the fact that I dress ‘like a man’. My gender, something that is so innate to a person’s identity, is neither male nor female, or sometimes both. There is an overlap in how I dress and express myself, which coincides with my inner gender identity, but for some people, how they dress is not an expression of an androgynous gender identity, it is simply a refusal to conform to restrictive gender roles.

Being non-binary transgender is extremely difficult. I’m constantly faced with choices that I’m unable to make – male or female bathroom, male or female dressing rooms, male or female ‘tick-the-box-and-choose-your-gender’ forms. I regularly fail to fill out applications because in them I have to declare my gender as either male or female, and I am neither. I dread using toilets in public areas and actively avoid doing so whenever I can. I shop in the men’s section, but some of my favourite clothes come from the women’s section. Adverts are geared towards male or female gender, even sexuality often implies binary gender. Nothing in this world fits me. I am outside of society, and will always be until the rest of the world recognises other genders as valid gender identities.

As glad as I am that the “Transgender Tipping Point” has been reached, and that wonderful people such as Laverne Cox exist in this world and are happy to share their story, I cannot sit back and say ‘hurray, transgender equality has arrived’. I spent a weekend at Trans Pride Brighton where I talked to so many people who felt alone until they arrived at Trans Pride. Our experiences are unique, and much of this is based on erasure of transgender people in everyday life. Perhaps the tipping point has been reached, but there’s a lot of ground to make up, and the mainstream media needs to get on board and start accurately representing the experiences of ALL transgender people, not just those with privilege, wealth and “conventional beauty.”

Words by Naomhán O’Connor

Naomhán is an Irish non-binary transgender person living in Belfast. They are a filmmaker and editor who vlogs about their experience of being non-binary in the UK for the My Genderation YouTube Channel. They/Them pronouns.

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