Alex Blaze

Traditional media still has trouble covering transgender issues

Filed By Alex Blaze | November 09, 2008 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: election campaigns, Election Day, journalism, louis braxton, Michelle Carver, names, New York Times, sex change, transgender, voting

I saved this NY Times article in my "to post" list election night after I read the first part of it because I wanted to point people's attention to what seemed to be an interesting article on transgender voting issues. But I just read the whole thing now and it's just plain awful!

It starts with a few paragraphs on the general problems trans people can face on voting day, but then takes a strange turn into a specific case (the Rev. Louis Braxton runs a queer youth home and is trying to help Michelle Carver, a 21-year-old transwoman, vote on election day):

The official asked Mr. Braxton for the zip code of Ms. Carver's residence. Mr. Braxton rattled off a list of zip codes corresponding to Ms. Carver's various places of residence in New York City: The shelter's current address in Astoria, its old address in Astoria, and the address of a shelter in Midtown where Ms. Carver used to stay.

Mr. Braxton did and waited as the hotline official searched the voter rolls in New York State, unsuccessfully, as it turned out.

Ms. Carver said the problem was likely that she registered while living in Houston, just after her 18th birthday. She also allowed that she had not given much thought at all to preparing to vote. She also allowed that she really wanted to leave immediately and just get her hair done.

Um, couldn't they have found someone who was registered to vote (or was trying to register) in the right state? Or someone who actually cared about voting?

There are serious issues for many transgender people when it comes to voting. Their name might have changed since registering to vote, states with stringent photo ID laws (like Indiana) can pose a problem for trans folk whose gender expression doesn't match their drivers' license, and plain old transphobia of some poll workers might intimidate transgender people who have a right to cast a vote.

But you wouldn't know that from the article. Someone who's unfamiliar with the topic would probably think that transwomen are just more concerned with getting their hair done.

It didn't look like Ms. Carver would cast a vote this election, which was just as well to her because she was headed out for the evening and had a scarf around her head and large hoop earrings in her hair and tight clothes on her tall slim body. The official told Mr. Braxton that Ms. Carver could apply for a provisional ballot or even try going before a judge before the polls closed at 9 p.m., to try to get on the ballot.[...]

"That gives you an idea of her priorities," Father Braxton said, shaking his head. "She wanted to get her hair done."

I'm sure there were plenty of transwomen who wanted to vote in New York City who could have been profiled in this article. Or the Times could have done an article about voter apathy and used Michelle Carver as an example.

So good on the Times for at least referring to Michelle Carver with female pronouns and a female honorific. But this issue deserves serious coverage, not condescending commentary on a someone who isn't even facing the problems outlined in the beginning of the article.

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They aren't the only ones, though.

Its common among *anyone* who covers trans issues to have that sort of patronizing "oh, we can use the right pronouns abut we all know ya just haven't the cojones to hang in the real world" presentation and way of dealing with things.

Hell, we can't even get serious respect from the places that do cover our issues right. What makes anyone think the MSM are gonna be any better?