This morning, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed in my typical Monday daze when I saw an enraged post from the amazing Precious Davis.
Precious was furious about a Chicago Sun-Times op-ed titled, “Laverne Cox is Not a Woman.” The column was picked up by ST from the National Review, whose readers would not be surprised to read such drivel. But as a Chicagoan who grew up on the Sun-Times and a former employee of the paper, I was pretty stunned.
The paper took a beating on social media today for the post, and rightfully so. The column is a rambling pile of transphobic, hateful nonsense. Pseudo-“science” and religious babbling. I would argue that even someone who shares the author’s views on trans people would struggle to understand it — just because it’s so poorly written.
If the paper does decide to respond to the post, I am assuming they will say something along the lines of, “our opinion pages aim to represent views from all people — conservative and liberal, gay and straight, whatever and blah blah blah.” But you know what? I don’t think that should fly anymore.
And you know what else? I don’t think the leader of a hate group should be quoted in ANY news story about trans people or the queer community in general for the sake of “balance.”
What sort of balance does hating someone for who they are provide?
As a queer journalist, I know that I’m perhaps more aware of these things than my straight counterparts. But when covering civil rights issues, there should be some ground rules - and journalists should be expected to know them. Even old school newspaper journalists who used to throw racial slurs around the office, eliciting a giggle and a wink from their favorite editor. Times have changed, pal, and it’s time you do too.
Back in November, I was following the Illinois gay marriage debate on NPR. I’m mincing garlic when I hear some asshat on the radio say something along the lines of, “homosexuals are an abomination.” ON NPR, YOU GUYS. The thing is, they were clearly just trying to find a voice of opposition to the gay marriage debate. When there are thousands of people holding up equality signs and hugging outside the state capital, they probably thought, “this story sounds a little too ‘rah rah gay rights,’ we better get some balance in there.”
But what balance is being provided here? When did misogynists get to stop telling reporters why women shouldn’t vote? When did racists stop being quoted when news organizations covered the desegregation of schools?
I was once told by a former coworker to “tone down” my support of gay marriage on social media. I laughed. First of all, did you seriously just ask me that? Have you ever met me? Secondly, I don’t think civil rights should be a partisan issue. I believe it’s a right or wrong issue.
As newsrooms still struggle to cover things like gay marriage or just non-traditional relationships in general, I get that figuring out how to cover trans issues could be overwhelming to a profession that is still overwhelmingly white and male.
Even within the LGBTQ community, there is infighting about evolving language when it comes to trans issues, but that doesn’t mean we should throw up our arms and say “screw it!”
News organizations should care about this stuff. They should be careful. They should realize that we are talking about human beings here. People who are just living their lives - and trying not to be hated, attacked or even killed for being who they are.
It’s our job to tell these stories, not to convince the world that we are apathetic about them.
The bizarre (by which I mean lazy) thing about the obsession with balance is that it seems to define itself as “same number of things from both sides,” rather than considering whether the divergent opinions balance one another. If one is a calm discussion of the history of transphobic and transmisogynistic oppression, the statistics on sexual violence, abuse, and murder of transwomen, etc., and the other is screaming “NOT A WOMAN!!!!!” then that is still not balanced just because one is positive and the other is negative. Degree of charge matters as well as direction of polarity.
Objectivity, or rather the cult thereof (since true objectivity is not and will never be achieved by pretty much anyone, let alone an entire class of people), really is a scourge of journalism and as a result of our political conversations. I sincerely think doing away with it would bring us a more honest, transparent, and fairer press. (Note that objectivity is not the same as being responsible in citing sources and covering all relevant facts. You can, in fact, have one without the other.)