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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France is changing: an army stalks the streets and Boris Johnson wanders the Tuileries

Will Self on the militarisation of France, and Boris Johnson at the Foreign Office.

At the corner of the rue D’Hauteville and the rue de Paradis in the tenth arrondissement of Paris is a retro-video-games-themed bar, Le Fantôme, which is frequented by some not-so-jeunes gens – the kind of thirtysomethings nostalgic for an era when you had to go to an actual place if you wanted to enter virtual space. They sit placidly behind the plate-glass windows zapping Pac-Men and Space Invaders, while outside another – and rather more lethal – sort of phantom stalks the sunlit streets.

I often go to Paris for work, and so have been able to register the incremental militarisation of its streets since President Hollande first declared a state of emergency after last November’s terrorist attacks. In general the French seem more comfortable about this prêt-à-porter khaki than we’d probably be; the army-nation concept is, after all, encrypted deep in their collective psyche. The army was constituted as a revolutionary instrument. France was the first modern nation to introduce universal male conscription – and it continued in one form or another right up until the mid-1990s.

Even so, it was surprising to witness the sang-froid with which Parisians regarded the camouflaged phantoms wandering among them: a patrol numbering eight ­infantrymen and women moved up the roadway, scoping out doorways, nosing into passages – but when one peered into Le Fantôme, his assault rifle levelled, none of the boozing gamers paid the least attention. I witnessed this scene the Saturday after Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel ran amok on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice – it was a little preview of the new state of emergency.

On Monday 18 July the French premier, Manuel Valls, was booed at a memorial service for the victims of the Nice attacks – while Marine Le Pen has been making all the populist running, whipping up anxieties about the enemy within. For many French, the events of the past week – including the failed Turkish coup – are steps along the way limned by Michel Houellebecq in his bestselling novel Submission; a via dolorosa that ends with La Marianne wearing the hijab and France itself annexed by a new caliphate.

Into this febrile drama comes a new player: Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Secretary. What can we expect from this freshly minted statesman when it comes to our relations with our closest neighbour? There is no doubt that Johnson is a Francophile – I’ve run into him and his family at the Tuileries, and he made much of his own francophone status during the referendum campaign. In Paris last winter to launch the French edition of his Churchill biography, Johnson wowed a publication dinner by speaking French for the entire evening. He was sufficiently fluent to bumble, waffle and generally avoid saying anything serious at all.

Last Sunday I attended the Lambeth Country Show, an oxymoronic event for which the diverse inhabitants of my home borough gather in Brockwell Park, south London, for jerked and halal chicken, funfair rides, Quidditch-watching, and “country-style” activities, such as looking at farm animals and buying their products. Wandering among ancient Rastafarians with huge shocks of dreadlocks, British Muslims wearing immaculate white kurtas blazoned with “ASK ME ABOUT ISLAM” and crusty old Brixton punks, I found it quite impossible to rid my mind of the Nice carnage – or stop wondering how they would react if armed soldiers were patrolling, instead of tit-helmeted, emphatically unarmed police.

I stepped into the Royal Horticultural Society marquee, and there they were: the entire cast of our end-of-the-pier-show politics, in vegetable-sculpture form and arrayed for judging. There was Jeremy Corbyn (or “Cornbin”) made out of corncobs – and Boris Johnson in the form of a beetroot, being stabbed in the back by a beetroot Michael Gove. And over there was Johnson again, this time rendered in cabbage. The veggie politicians were the big draw, Brixtonians standing six-deep around them, iPhones aloft.

The animal (as opposed to the vegetable) Johnson has begun his diplomatic rounds this week, his first démarches as tasteless and anodyne as cucumber. No British abandonment of friends after Brexit . . . Coordinated response to terror threat . . . Call for Erdogan to be restrained in response to failed coup . . . Blah-blah, whiff-whaff-waffle . . . Even someone as gaffe-prone as he can manage these simple lines, but I very much doubt he will be able to produce rhetorical flourishes as powerful as his hero’s. In The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History, Johnson writes of Winnie overcoming “his stammer and his depression and his ­appalling father to become the greatest living Englishman”. Well, I’ve no idea if Bojo suffers from depression now but he soon will if he cleaves to this role model. His Churchill-worship (like so many others’) hinges on his belief that, without Churchill as war leader, Britain would have been ground beneath the Nazi jackboot. It may well be that, with his contribution to the Brexit campaign, Johnson now feels he, too, has wrested our national destiny from the slavering jaws of contingency.

Of course the differences between the two politicians are far more significant: Johnson’s genius – such as it is – lies in his intuitive understanding that politics, in our intensely mediatised and entirely commoditised era, is best conceived of as a series of spectacles or stunts: nowadays you can fool most of the people, most of the time. This is not a view you can imagine associating with Churchill, who, when his Gallipoli stratagem went disastrously wrong, exiled himself, rifle in hand, to the trenches. No, the French people Johnson both resembles and has an affinity for are the ones caught up in the virtual reality of Le Fantôme – rather than those patrolling the real and increasingly mean streets without. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt