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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How can London’s mothers escape the poverty trap?

Despite its booming jobs market, London’s poverty rate is high. What can be done about it?

Why are mothers in London less likely to work than their counterparts across the country, and how can we ensure that having more parents in jobs brings the capital’s high child poverty rates down?

The answers to these two questions, examined in a new CPAG report on parental employment in the capital, may become increasingly nationally significant as policymakers look to ensure jobs growth doesn’t stall and that a job becomes a more much reliable route out of poverty than it is currently – 64 per cent of poor children live in working families.

The choice any parent makes when balancing work and family life is deeply personal.  It’s a choice driven by a wide range of factors but principally by what parents, with their unique viewpoint, regard as best for their families. The man in Whitehall doesn’t know best.

But the personal is also political. Every one of these personal choices is shaped, limited or encouraged by an external context.   Are there suitable jobs out there? Is there childcare available that is affordable and will work for their child(ren)? And what will be the financial gains from working?

In London, 40 per cent of mothers in couples are not working. In the rest of the country, the figure is much lower – 27 per cent. While employment rates amongst lone parents in London have significantly increased in recent years, the proportion of mothers in couples out of work remains stuck at about 12 percentage points higher than the rest of the UK.

The benefits system has played a part in increasing London’s lone parent employment rate. More and more lone parents are expected to seek work. In 2008, there was no obligation on single parents to start looking for work until their youngest child turned 16. Now they need to start looking when their youngest is five (the Welfare Reform and Work Bill would reduce this down to three). But the more stringent “conditionality” regime, while significant, doesn’t wholly explain the higher employment rate. For example, we know more lone parents with much younger children have also moved into jobs.  It also raises the question of what sacrifices families have had to make to meet the new conditionality.  

Mothers in couples in London, who are not mandated to work, have not entered work to the same level as lone parents. So, what is it about the context in London that makes it less likely for mothers in couples to work? Here are four reasons highlighted in our report for policymakers to consider:

1. The higher cost of working in London is likely to play a significant role in this. London parents are much less likely to be able to call on informal (cheaper or free) childcare from family and friends than other parts in the country: only one in nine children in London receives informal childcare compared to an average of one in three for England. And London childcare costs for under 5s dwarf those in the rest of the country, so for many parents support available through tax credits is inadequate.

2. Add to this high housing and transport costs, and parents are left facing a toxic combination of high costs that can mean they see less financial rewards from their work than parents in other parts of the country.

3. Effective employment support can enable parents to enter work, particularly those who might have taken a break from employment while raising children. But whilst workless lone parents and workless couples are be able to access statutory employment support, if you have a working partner, but don’t work yourself, or if you are working on a low wage and want to progress, there is no statutory support available.

4. The nature of the jobs market in London may also be locking mums out. The number of part time jobs in the capital is increasing, but these jobs don’t attract the same London premium as full time work.  That may be partly why London mums who work are more likely to work full time than working mums in other parts of the country. But this leaves London families facing even higher childcare costs.

Parental employment is a thorny issue. Parenting is a 24-hour job in itself which must be balanced with any additional employment and parents’ individual choices should be at the forefront of this debate. Policy must focus on creating the context that enables parents to make positive choices about employment. That means being able to access the right support to help with looking for work, creating a jobs market that works for families, and childcare options that support child development and enable parents to see financial gains from working.

When it comes to helping parents move into jobs they can raise a family on, getting it right for London, may also go a long way to getting it right for the rest of the country.