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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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.