What lies behind the monstering of trans people in the press?

We have to get to a place where the trans population are not pantomime but people.

Parents were informed of Lucy Meadows' decision to undergo gender reassignment and surgery by the school where she taught. The rest of the country’s parents were then informed of the story in the bear pit of the national press. Most of them took great offence at this.

Parents at the school too took a very negative view - many of them actively protested that they were worried that their children would be confused. One quoted parent even opined at the time that his son was worried that he would wake up with a girl’s brain! But I put this to that parent - which is worse? Is it death or perhaps confusion? Discuss.

If that sounds glib to you, it is not meant to be. I simply suggest that death is a high price to pay for living your life as you see fit. Let me tell you this at the outset. You do not just wake up one morning, blast out some Shania Twain and gain an immediate passport to womanhood. It is a far more visceral process, and to say that it is just about putting on a few skirts and the latest shoes is also a gross oversimplification.

A lecturer of mine once told us when studying post-colonial literature that in order to know what you are you must also know what you are not. For some trans people, it’s a slow burn situation. For others it’s pretty clear cut. I was lucky enough to fall into the latter category.

Lucy Meadows did not wake up one morning and think, “Oh, I fancy becoming a woman today.” It’s not like you can reduce it to an easy peasy decision like making a cup of tea. That is just too simplistic. Gender dysphoria is not an easy condition to live with. It is a constant, gnawing feeling that you, and your identity, are out of kilter with the world.

Personally, I always contend that I was born with quadriplegic cerebral palsy AND gender dysphoria. I screamed at my genitals in the bath! I hated my blue clothes! Instead of rough and tumble, I preferred music and the wendy house. My overriding point here is that no one goes to bed a man and wakes up a woman. It does not happen that way. It is not chicken pox and is not contagious. But Lucy Meadows is dead. I am not going to blame the press. However, I would say that it appears they were a cumulative factor, along with other variables like prejudice and ignorance as well.

Let us look firstly at how this story ended up in the public domain. Somebody leaked private correspondence from the school to the local press. Details of Lucy Meadows’ changing gender presentation were leaked under the heading "Staff Changes".

The national press then got hold of it, and turned it into something cheap and salacious, probably akin to a cheap ready meal. The whole thing was nurtured via the discriminatory views of parents, and as Jane Fae has already stated in the New Statesman, attempts by other parents to provide positive commentary were rejected.

But why is such monstering considered acceptable? Why are trans people the last bastion of cheap titillation for the press? My answer is this. It is quite simply, due to alpha male patriarchy. The same type of people who snigger at Lucy Meadows are also journalists, because hey presto! Journalists have prejudices too, and the national press gives them a platform to air them. Such prejudice is shared by those who read what they write, namely those who are worried by changes in gender presentation, and use their children as a vehicle to cloak their own prejudices, which is unforgivable while children are in the education system. What does Lucy Meadows' death teach these children?

And yes, what of the children? One of them drew a picture of Miss Meadows with long hair. Children are understanding people, open to all sorts of variety. My own view is that as long as Lucy carried on behaving in a consistent manner, as would be expected of any teacher, the children would not care much, but would want to support as much as any child could. Children care more than we think, and one can hope they do not inherit parental prejudice.

What about if a teacher was in a wheelchair, or blind? Would they be monstered in the press? I doubt it. Press regulatory body pronto, I say. We have to get to a juncture where the hubris and alpha male arrogance disappears from the press, where the trans population are not pantomime but people. People like doctors, lawyers, artists and writers. This is not about Leveson, or statutory underpinning. A repeat of Lucy Meadows does not need that. It needs care, compassion and common sense. Sadly, those writing about Lucy Meadows made no attempt to exercise these things.

At the end of the day, which is worse for a child to hear? That their teacher is called Miss Meadows, or that their teacher is dead? I believe this is something for all those who have a vested interest in journalism, and those who do not, to contemplate hard on this sad day.

For advice about the issues raised in this post, you can read more on the Samaritans website or contact them on 08457 90 90 90

Hannah Buchanan is a blogger with a specific interest in LGBT, disability, and feminist issues and the potential crossover between them. Follow her @HannahBoo3131

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Just face it, being a parent will never be cool

Traditional parenting terms are being rejected in favour of trendier versions, but it doesn't change the grunt-like nature of the work.

My children call me various things. Mummy. Mum. Poo-Head. One thing they have never called me is mama. This is only to be expected, for I am not cool.

Last year Elisa Strauss reported on the rise of white, middle-class mothers in the US using the term “mama” as “an identity marker, a phrase of distinction, and a way to label the self and designate the group.” Mamas aren’t like mummies or mums (or indeed poo-heads). They’re hip. They’re modern. They’re out there “widen[ing] the horizons of ‘mother,’ without giving up on a mother identity altogether.” And now it’s the turn of the dads.

According to the Daily Beast, the hipster fathers of Brooklyn are asking their children to refer to them as papa. According to one of those interviewed, Justin Underwood, the word “dad” is simply too “bland and drab”:

“There’s no excitement to it, and I feel like the word papa nowadays has so many meanings. We live in an age when fathers are more in touch with their feminine sides and are all right with playing dress-up and putting on makeup with their daughters.”

Underwood describes “dad” as antiquated, whereas “papa” is an “open-minded, liberal term, like dad with a twist” (but evidently not a twist so far that one might consider putting on makeup with one’s sons).

Each to their own, I suppose. Personally I always associate the word “papa” with “Smurf” or “Lazarou.” It does not sound particularly hip to me. Similarly “mama” is a word I cannot hear without thinking of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, hence never without a follow-up “ooo-oo-oo-ooh!” Then again, as a mummy I probably have no idea what I am talking about. If other people think these words are trendy, no doubt they are.

Nonetheless, I am dubious about the potential of such words to transform parenting relationships and identities. In 1975’s Of Woman Born, Adrienne Rich describes how she used to look at her own mother and think “I too shall marry, have children – but not like her. I shall find a way of doing it all differently.” It is, I think, a common sentiment. Rejecting mummy or daddy as an identity, if not as an individual, can feel much the same as rejecting the politics that surrounds gender and parenting. The papas interviewed by The Daily Beast are self-styled feminists, whose hands-on parenting style they wish to differentiate from that of their own fathers. But does a change of title really do that? And even if it does, isn’t this a rather individualistic approach to social change?

There is a part of me that can’t help wondering whether the growing popularity of mama and papa amongst privileged social groups reflects a current preference for changing titles rather than social realities, especially as far as gendered labour is concerned. When I’m changing a nappy, it doesn’t matter at all whether I’m known as Mummy, Mama or God Almighty. I’m still up to my elbows in shit (yes, my baby son is that prolific).

The desire to be known as Papa or Mama lays bare the delusions of new parents. It doesn’t even matter if these titles are cool now. They won’t be soon enough because they’ll be associated with people who do parenting. Because like it or not, parenting is not an identity. It is not something you are, but a position you occupy and a job you do.

I once considered not being called mummy. My partner and I did, briefly, look at the “just get your children to call you by your actual name” approach. On paper it seemed to make sense. If to my sons I am Victoria rather than mummy, then surely they’ll see me as an individual, right? Ha. In practice it felt cold, as though I was trying to set some kind of arbitrary distance between us. And perhaps, as far as my sons are concerned, I shouldn’t be just another person. It is my fault they came into this vale of tears. I owe them, if not anyone else, some degree of non-personhood, a willingness to do things for them that I would not do for others. What I am to them – mummy, mum, mama, whatever one calls it – is not a thing that can be rebranded. It will never be cool because the grunt work of caring never is.

It is not that I do not think we need to change the way in which we parent, but this cannot be achieved by hipster trendsetting alone. Changing how we parent involves changing our most fundamental assumptions about what care work is and how we value the people who do it. And this is change that needs to include all people, even those who go by the old-fashioned titles of mum and dad.

Ultimately, any attempt to remarket parenting as a cool identity smacks of that desperate craving for reinvention that having children instils in a person. The moment you have children you have bumped yourself up the generational ladder. You are no longer the end of your family line. You are – god forbid – at risk of turning into your own parents, the ones who fuck you up, no matter what they do. But you, too, will fuck them up, regardless of whether you do it under the name of daddy, dad or papa. Accept it. Move on (also, you are mortal. Get over it).

Parenting will never be cool. Indeed, humanity will never be cool. We’re all going to get older, more decrepit, closer to death. This is true regardless of whether you do or don’t have kids – but if you do you will always have younger people on hand to remind you of this miserable fact.

Your children might, if you are lucky, grow to respect you, but as far as they are concerned you are the past.  No amount of rebranding is going to solve that. This doesn’t mean we can’t change the way we parent. But as with so much else where gender is concerned, it’s a matter for boring old deeds, not fashionable words.

 

 

 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.