There’s never been a shortage of hate speech about which, from time to time, various trans persons who seem like they’re worth quoting are asked for soundbites. Now there appears to be another book making the rounds, only this time we can add to the mix cadres of radical trans activists who are fighting back — noisily and insistently.
I’m asked to comment on that sort of thing, and you may be, too; and please notice that it’s easier than ever to be taken out of context, and even bent a bit to favor the agendas of whatever media is doing the story. So, with the looming teapot of a new radical feminist attack on trans issues in mind, let’s try to keep the tempest as calm, reasonable and orderly as possible.
1. Even those reporters with the best intentions will, almost reflexively, go for the prurient quote. ”When did you first realize you were…” is usually first. ”When did you have (blockers, hormones, surgery, etc., etc.) is usually next. Or it may alternate with “When did you (transition, de-transition)”, or, in the worst case, “Do you have (a vagina, a penis, breasts, no breasts, muscles, scales, fins, long green sucker-covered tendrils)”. As people like Janet Mock, who have much more visible speaking positions, are pointing out, when you answer those questions you are merely pandering to the audience’s prurient interests. It contributes nothing of value to the discussion and distracts from the real and urgent issues, which are about raising the awareness of the general public regarding trans issues, in particular showing that trans people are just people; working toward freedom from oppression, from stereotyping, from bigotry and hate.
2. Except in the very rare instance that your interviewer is writing a long form piece, you’re going to be soundbyted, so try to think ahead and get everything you’d like to say into your very first sentence.
3. Except in the very rare instance that the article happens to be about you, what you say will probably be reduced to a few words among many sentences belonging to others, so make every single word count.
4. Think about how your words can be taken out of context, and do your best to head it off. Some years back I was asked by a TV reporter when I “first felt that I was a woman”. I replied that in my specific case, I felt there was something odd going on at around the age of five and that that was more or less classic, but it was important to keep in mind that there are huge variations in individual persons’ senses of themselves and the way they articulate that. The soundbite they ran had me say, in total: ”I felt I was a woman at the age of five.” Epic fail on my part in my attempt to head off that kind of essentializing, but I’ll keep on trying.
I’ll add to this list from time to time, and comments are welcome (on my FB page, please; I don’t have time to moderate this blog.)