I have written before about the use of the terms transgender and transsexual in headlines. In many instances (far too many), the press goes after these words as if they were gold – and in a way, they are, if you want to sensationalize your news and get as much traffic as possible to your site.
We live in an era in which news sources of all kinds are competing for views. And we also live in an era in which the general public, for some reason, is obsessed with trans people.
They can’t get enough of us – on reality shows, talk shows, and in sensationalized news headlines. (Too bad the same isn’t true for dates. I’m still waiting for the general public – at least the smokin’ hot members of it – to give me a call.)
But because the culture seems so completely enamored of us, at least news-wise, we (and particularly trans women) tend to show up in headlines when being trans has absolutely nothing to do with the story – “Transsexual woman among survivors of plane crash” or “Transgender woman robbed outside of bank.”
We also tend to show up when it isn’t even a story at all – “Transsexual woman runs red light” or “Transgender woman shops at mall.” And those are the good ones – when they actually get the gender right.
It usually doesn’t matter. The trans part is just there to get readers, viewers, or clicks. But sometimes it does matter, and in my opinion, it matters with the story of Rep. Chris Lee.
Now-former Rep. Chris Lee, a married-with-children U.S. Congressman who resigned when his story came out, was caught trolling craigslist for female companionship – something that we would prefer our married representatives avoid, especially when they have more pressing problems on Capitol Hill. But it seems that, in several ads, Lee was specifically looking for trans women, or what he termed “passable TS/CD,” as reported by Gawker.
Regardless of Gawker’s extremely annoying headline (The Craigslist Congressman and the Crossdressing Prostitute) and use of the term “transvestite” in the article, it matters that Lee was looking for trans women. Other news sources picked up the story and reported it under various headlines, but all used some form of “trans” (usually “transgender”).
It matters because Lee is a moderately conservative Republican (and it would matter just the same if he were a conservative Democrat) who has not been known to support LGBT rights. He received a zero on HRC’s Congressional Scorecard (not my favorite organization, but one with the potential to provide helpful information).
It matters because he is searching for sexual interactions with the very people that he would apparently not support in matters of employment or other rights. It matters for the same reason that it mattered that anti-gay minister George Rekers got discovered with an escort he found on rentboy.com – good enough to sleep with, not good enough for basic human rights?
The other side to this, of course, is that the media continues to sensationalize trans people, and particularly trans women, through these headlines and stories. I’m not naive enough to think that the press is actually becoming noble and trying to demonstrate Lee’s hypocrisy – this is all done for views, clicks, and readers.
But in this case, I am in favor of it. I would prefer that it be respectful and accurate – unfortunately, that’s still asking too much, and these two qualifiers are missing in much of the coverage. Nevertheless, I think it’s important that those who seek to hurt us, either by direct action or inaction, are exposed for what they are.
Of course, I am not the one being negatively affected by it. Trans women are the ones who suffer the repercussions.