Guest Blogger

Democracy When? For Whom?

Filed By Guest Blogger | December 27, 2009 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, Politics, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Amy Goodman, April Rose, media, transgender, two spirits

Editors' Note: Guest blogger April Rose, a Two-Spirits author, speaker and raconteur on all things trans, lives in New Mexico where she is currently developing a website that will implement her desire to educate people about living with integrity and authenticity in their chosen gender April-Rose.jpgAs one of the most passionate and prolific unknown writers of the Two Spirits variety, she spends her spare time roaming the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains with her two dogs and her soulmate of twenty-nine years.

Confession: I've been doing it for years and it hurts more every time I do it. No, it's not masturbation or any other painfully gratifying form of self absorbing behavior. In fact, it's much less satisfying than any of those other things you may now be fantasizing about.

I'm referring to the venerated independent news program called Democracy Now, currently broadcast on Free Speech Television. For at least ten years I have been waiting with bated brain for some morsel, a mere smidgen of a reference to the plight of America's invisible minority - the transgender population.

Many years ago when I still believed in the power of the press, I held out hope for an independent news broadcast that would disdain the lives of the rich and powerful. In the early days of Democracy Now, I theorized that the act of monitoring the show over time would yield a percentage of coverage relevant to transgender issues. I am apparently too optimistic. Now it seems that even the power of the independent press, which was once synonymous with the power of the people, has been usurped.

We're Skewed!

A visit to the Democracy Now website proved revealing: A search for sex and gender related terms, beginning with the year 2000, showed 538 instances of the word 'gay', 175 instances of 'lesbian', thirty-four results that mentioned transgender and nineteen results for 'LGBT', all but one of which were exclusively gay related. Last and apparently least in the eyes of the progressive media, the subject of transsexualism ranked the lowest with a dismal five stories.

dn_logo.pngNo, it's not a typo, I counted five stories on transsexualism over a period of more than a decade, of which two were repeats of the transgender related stories.

Another story was an interview of Michael Eric Dyson including brief mention of the need for inclusion of the GLBT community by the church. Dyson's point of view was contrasted by another article, from 2008 that described Pope Benedict XVI's case of extreme homo/trans phobia. The earthshaking, yet quasi-compassionate sounding headline appeals to not one but two darker aspects of the human consciousness, fear and the pride of ignorance: Pope: Homosexuality Could Lead to Self-Destruction of Human Race.

And last, a blurb about the former city manager of Largo Florida who was fired for beginning a gender transition on the job: City Officials in Florida Fire Transsexual City Manager.

My point in mentioning these stories is to expose their inherent banality and complete lack of a rational, humanistic approach to an emerging phenomenon that means life or death to so many people whom I refer to as the 'invisible minority' -invisible because of the violent enforcement of sexism as it frames the gender binary. There are actually two subsets of this socially reinforced invisibility.

The most familiar of these two groups, ironically, are transgender people who live lives of stealth, whose goal in life is simply to 'pass' as a member of their innate, internal self-identified gender out of the very real fear of the violence that often accompanies judgment and condemnation. Comprising the rest of this 'invisible' minority is the countless number of humans who repress the expression of an alternate gender identity out of the very real fear of degradation and ostracism

Not only do these crimes against minorities rarely see the ink of major news outlets, according to the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, culpability by mainstream news agencies for the ongoing persecution of TLGB people spills out in random waves over a broader section of the populace

Inaccurate hate/bias crime reporting can unintentionally support a blame-the-victim strategy. Personal assaults and criminal acts may only involve a single victim, but perpetrators often intend them to send a message that LGBT people are legitimate targets for abuse, harassment and violence. (In fact, the victims of some anti-gay hate crimes are heterosexuals who are thought to be gay. In 2008, 9% of all victims reporting anti-LGBT violence to the NCAVP identified as heterosexual.)

The Devil in the Details

On November 20th of each year, the transgender community holds a vigil celebrating the lives of predominantly transgender people. The commemoration is known by the TLGB community as the Transgender Day of Remembrance, completely ignored in the archived pages of 'Democracy Now' or anywhere else, is a peer collaborative effort to ...

...memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. The event is held in November to honor Rita Hester, whose murder in 1998 kicked off the "Remembering Our Dead" web project and a San Francisco candlelight vigil in 1999. Since then, the event has grown to encompass memorials in dozens of cities across the world.

A review of the website The Transgender Day of Remembrance, dedicated to creating a heightened awareness over the hate crimes, is a daunting experience. The cumulative numbers no doubt under-report the grim stats. Yet they remain very disturbing from a humanist perspective. From 1970 to November of 2009, 305 people were murdered here in the United States for the fatal error of being unique in their personal expression. America, ever competitive in all forms of endeavor, can be proud of its hate, for in the entire world there were only 276 hate murders for the same period. Although, the similarity of the global figures are suspect due to a myriad of inhibiting religious and cultural implications of reporting hate crime, the grand total of people murdered for the mere expression of gender alternatives globally was 581.

No Rest for the Wary

Hate is like a mutant virus that thrives in the darkness of societal bigotry. Nurtured in the infected test tube of the nuclear family, it poisons the heart of all who allow it into their system. Hate toxifies the mind with the bitter rhetoric of societal condemnation, so often based on fear-mongering and a perceived threat to the male dominant hierarchy. Yet the persistence of hate motivated crimes against the transgender community is consistently ignored by this show, Democracy Now, that proclaims to support democracy.

We need not look very far at all for a recent example. During the week that I wrote this post, the news comes that Uganda is on the verge of making homosexuality and transgenderism a crime punishable by death. This story like so many others received no mention by mainstream media... or Democracy Now's Amy Goodman.

The blatant omission of this very newsworthy story speaks loudly about this culture's lack of concern for human rights and begs the question "Why?". Why are we as a global transgender minority consistently ostracized and marginalized by a purportedly progressive media whose archival programming reveals it to be, more accurately, moderate or slightly to the left of center? Sadly, we are left to guess at the answer. But we can safely deduce that this fatal omission lies in the mentality of those who make the programming decisions - and typically, they lack the courage to speak their truth.

The act of omitting the coverage of rampant, widespread hate crimes against any group, especially by so-called progressive media news outlets like 'Democracy Now', is tacit complicity in the application of oppression, period. It is analogous to the act of witnessing a murder from a distance, and using that distance as a rationale for doing and saying nothing that might implement justice. With the inherent power of the media to influence public attention in the 21st century, the act of non-reporting indirectly condones the suffering of a vast global minority.

For all my years of faithful watching and listening to'Democracy Now' I have eagerly anticipated a show about democracy, small 'd', whose stories focused on human rights abuses of the transgender minority populations of the global culture. For a brief, shining moment, with the emergence of the Free Speech Television Network, I allowed myself a thread of hope. Yet the genre of programming that I have long envisioned has not arrived - neither in mainstream, nor alternative culture.

The question remains , if not 'Democracy Now' for transgender people, with innocent lives at stake... can we afford to wait for "Democracy Someday"? Amy, why have you forsaken me?

Amy Goodman did not respond to requests for comment.

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Actually, there was a transwoman who worked at WBAI and was on DN to talk about her transition. It was a very long time ago, and the last time I checked that transwoman (her name escapes me right now :() was still in the WBAI news department, though that was a while ago.

Aside from that there's virtually nothing other than a single appearance Amy Goodman did on GenderTalk when she was promoting her book.

Unfortunately, it's symptomatic of left-wing mainstream media in general (even if Amy Goodman is only barely mainstream) to just ignore trans identities and make it all about gays and lesbians. Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann do it constantly. The seeming presumption is that because they happen to know what the term "gender identity" refers to that their audiences will as well, but sadly that not been shown to be the case. History has shown us that when the mainstream media renders transfolks invisible, we tend to be equally invisible in legislative agendas as well.

I believe that you are talking about a woman named Andrea Sears. As of a few months ago, she was still at BAI, as a mutual friend mentioned having spoken to her about motorcycles.

Thanks, Maura, Andrea Sears is exactly who I was thinking of! :)

Self-described mannish, androgynous, butch and "whatever I am" Rachel Maddow won't explain gender identity or sexual orientation.

When she interviewed ex-gay Richard Cohen as part of the several segments she did on Uganda, she didn't counter with any scientific data or explanation on homosexuality being an immutable trait. (Only 34% of Americans believe homosexuality isn't a choice.)

Anderson Cooper 360 would be the better venue for that topic anyway just because of the format and types of topics he tends to cover.

Thanks for writing this. While I like Democracy Now, you're totally right to hold their feet to the fire and ask where trans-related stories are in their coverage. Same with Maddow and Olbermann, who are more than ready to mention stories related to G & L people but seem to think saying the words "gender" or mentioning "GLBT" is somehow the same as actual covering our community. In Maddow's case, I think she seriously parcels out coverage on GLBT issues because she doesn't want to be known as the "dyke journalist".

Actually, I've never seen/heard Democracy Now, but I'll try to get Amy Goodman to comment on your post. :)

Thanks Bill, that would be a great opportunity for some conscious raising dialogue..

The argument that covering gay and lesbian stories is not enough sort of comes off as criticism that gay issues are covered as much as they are. Intentional or not, that's how this looks like it's being framed.

I disagree with taking a tally and comparing the numbers in this way. I think it's cannibalistic. And I don't just think that when it comes to transgender vs gay, but comparing the media coverage of any two minorities--i.e. gay vs black or black vs Latino. There are certainly gays that are guilty of comparing how often gay issues are covered in comparison with racial issues. And I don't think using how often racial issues are covered as leverage for getting more gay coverage is a good idea either.

But especially where the media sees two minorities as linked or even the same as with LGBTs, when they see comparisons like this I think what they're more likely to do is reduce the one that's getting more coverage as opposed to increasing the one that's getting less. Some may even drop all coverage if only to avoid the controversy altogether.

I know I'm going against the common wisdom here since GLAAD spends so much of their time breaking down coverage in seemingly infinite ways. I don't think that strategy has resulted in an overall increase in LGBT visibility in the media.

If gender identity isn't covered enough, then just make that argument and it should be able to stand on it's own.

For the sake of clarification, I intended no comment on whether lesbian and gay issues are given too much coverage. I am in favor of as much media coverage as can be achieved by all minorities.

But the connection between targeted media coverage, public awareness and oppression, including hate, cannot be underestimated. The question, at least to me, involves how wide the net is cast. Should media companies, progressive or otherwise, determine the amount of coverage based on representation per capita or on the amount of targeted hate and violence?

Regarding your suggestion that I make my argument without relativity, I don't see how that's possible. If indeed we are a community, then this discrepancy would be the entire communities problem. Yet, as pointed out in other commenta, those high profile 'voices' in mainstream media give little voice to trans issues. So a comparison, not a criticism, is very illustrative if for no other reason than to make the point that the trans community is still being hung out to dry so to speak in the ill winds of identity politics.

My impression of fairness in reporting in a "democracy", is that most attention to human and civil rights should be applied to the least powerful, most vulnerable people or groups.

Wolfgang E. B. Wolfgang E. B. | December 28, 2009 4:22 AM

I've only known about Free Speech TV for about 7 years. Every time I've tuned in to Democracy Now, they're discussing either the wars in the Middle East or some corrupt political figure. I never gave the show much of my time because those topics didn't interest me.

Free Speech TV has other programming though, like Gay USA, which is really, really good about covering trans-related news and issues.

Gee, this might come as a total shock but the majority of "stealth" women are so because of their comfort in the binary, to avoid being assimilated into the borg "transgender" and consider that association to be a direct assault on who they are, women.....out of the hundreds I have met and chatted with in person over the years not one considered fear from being a victim as part of the process unless you consider being victimized by TG folks.

This would include myself. The vast vast bulk of discrimination, hatred and reason to fear came directly from transgenders, not the greater world which seems to have little problem with me.

Oh, and one does not "chose" a gender if they are not a transgender, one is born with gender hardwired into the brain and this is precisely why those born with a transsexual condition take the action of correcting the as to match that "gender" neurology.

If you are "two spirited" or transgender (third sex type) then more power to you but please cease and desist speaking for those who aren't. We can speak for ourselves (when some TG "activist" isn't shouting us down)