I read lots of LGBT news, both in LGBT and straight media. And lots of times the way stories about transgender people in straight media are covered makes it impossible to know what's going on. One would think that out of mere respect for the English language and their readership these people would like to get their pronouns straight, but apparently not.
Anyway, here's a good example of what I'm talking about:
Rehoboth Beach lifeguards summoned police assistance late Saturday afternoon for a group of transgender men who had their breasts exposed.
The incident happened near the surf off Queen Street around 4:45 p.m. "We have like a bit of an odd problem," the lifeguard reported over the radio. "There are girls on our beach without tops," he continued. "Well there apparently they are transgender and they have female breasts and a [incomplete sentence]. We tried to tell them to put shirts on and they told us they are transgender so that it's illegal to discriminate and I just had a problem with it and that's where we're at right now," he added.
So here I was thinking the story was another instance of trans men being told to cover up, wondering if they had had top surgery and were being treated unfairly or if they were just really cool dudes who don't care what other people think.
Well, read on:
A member of the beach patrol reported the incident to a passing police officer who radioed other officers who responded to Queen Street.
The beach patrol and police insisted the group was not in compliance with city ordinances. One police source says at least two of the men have partially completed the transgender process. He said it appeared they had breast implants but still had the male sex organ.
A beach patrol official backed by four police officers convinced them to cover their breasts.
No arrests were made or citations issued.
So they're transgender women. That changes, really, the entire story.
I personally don't really care if either men or women go topless on the beach. Women and men go topless in Europe on the beach and no little kids get scarred for life, no one dies, and people don't break out into spontaneous orgies. If anything, people out here cover up a lot more than Americans do, year-round, except for on the beach where men wear tiny swimsuits and women sometimes go topless.
But this story is from Delaware and in the US generally women have to cover their nipples and men don't. It's not particularly fair, one could call it "discrimination," but most everyone has come to accept that as the way it is.
Now I'd say that this story doesn't read as complete. It's unlikely that a group of transgender women would be on the beach topless, and, when told to cover up as cisgender women would be told, say that "they are transgender so that it's illegal to discriminate." That's just not discrimination on the basis of trans history, and I'd imagine a group of trans women would know that. It's discrimination on the basis of sex, since men are allowed to go shirtless on the beach, but the way the police officer constructed his sentence that's not what's implied.
So the story already doesn't seem like it went down that way, because the words of the trans people on the beach were relayed over the radio by a police officer who wasn't up to speed on the language, and then put online by a local blogger. It's a game of telephone where no one speaks the same language, so they're playing it by ear and the last person doesn't really know what happened. Language is meant to transmit ideas, and journalists and writers and bloggers are supposed to have enough respect for the craft to be able to get basic facts across.
The story then got picked up by a rightwing radio show, which produced a hate-filled segment replete with callers saying they want to beat up the trans women in question, the host insisting that he doesn't know or understand anything in this story other than that they should have been arrested (how are these the pro-freedom people?), and any caller who didn't say he was disgusted getting cut off. (So don't click the link if you don't need to hear that.)
It's not a huge story, but I was really thinking that the story was completely different for the first few paragraphs. I don't know if this is the case of a local writer not knowing which pronoun to use or intentionally mis-gendering to advance an agenda, but either way it was a lack of craft that got in the way of comprehension.