If any of these Rehoboth beachgoers are found
to have a penis, then they're men. Got that?
As previously mentioned in a prior post, never under-estimate cis journalists in their ability to make an utter mess of their stories about trans people. The newest example of that concerns the dozens of news stories about topless sunbathers at Delaware's Rehoboth Beach last weekend. It seems there was a complaint from some other beachgoers who "came up to the lifeguard and said they were alarmed and unhappy with the females showing their breasts." Police Chief Keith Banks goes on to state:
The lifeguard responded and saw that they were males." Banks said police were called because the men originally refused to put their tops back on, but had consented before police arrived. Officers made sure the situation was under control, and no citations were issued.
Clarity... what clarity?
Under control!? What's wrong with this picture? The complainants were concerned about females showing their breasts. The story then shifts to "saw that they were males." No explanation of this seeming discrepancy is given. Furthermore, virtually all the stories about this little affair (including AP) were given the headline: Transgendered men go topless in Rehoboth. Yes, in virtually all the headlines related to this story, they were referred to as "topless transgendered men."
Yes, AP has guidelines for reporting on trans people...
but don't let that get in the way of a good story
And now, because the situation was clearly not under control, no matter how many times organizations have tried to inform online, tv and print news media about pronoun usage, all hell breaks loose. "Transgender men" is repeated ad infinitum in countless blogs and news stories. A few more cautious stations used terms like "transgender individuals" (AKA "it") out of fear their confusion would be called to task. I know of no source which clearly stated "non/pre-operative trans women went topless."
Alex Blaze at Bilerico, wrote a thoughtful piece about the misgendering and how he initially thought this story was about trans men pre/post top surgery, as with the case of Dominic Scaia, a trans guy who got censored by YouTube and Facebook for showing images his post top surgery results. The confusion is understandable.
Social context not required
Moreover, literally not one of the news sources thought to bring up the very real issues surrounding trans women being considered as legal males. Several sites actually said "the men" were lucky to not be arrested the way women would be in this situation. Maybe, but their luck doesn't extend to being placed in the proper jail setting since they very likely would have been put in with the male jail population (or in "isolation") as usually happens wrongly gendered trans people who are arrested.
100 years of unapologetically misgendering people
What this story also brings up is how, in the world of Internet linking, one confused reporter creates hundreds of incorrect posts in the blink of an eye like an oldschool AP newswire on steroids. How people displaying the misgendering in the linked story virtually never go back and question the information nor correct any mistakes which might have been in the link. This was graphically seen with the global misgendering of Malawian Tiwonge Chimbalanga. While a few commentators like Peter Tatchell did examine whether they misgendered her, virtually none, including AP, UPI and Reuters, actually acknowledged their mistake and started to call her "she." Those which did question their pronoun and the use of "gay couple" emphasized whether there really are "western-style" transgender people in a country like Malawi and how acknowledging her as female would be cultural imperialism. As if the very concept of someone being gender variant or trans is purely a social construct (as opposed to, say, being gay).
Likewise, with the topless sunbathing story, some of the sites which have been called on their misgendering have responded by stating the sunbathers had penises (or were assumed to, anyway), were legally men—no more discussion required—case closed. I saw a recent program on PBS discussing the future of news departments in the world of YouTube and online news sources. YouTube's head of political and news coverage said, "in the future, anyone can be a reporter but few an be journalists." Perhaps he was referencing people with cell phone cameras taking snapshots of demonstrations, train wrecks or explosions in far-off countries and posting them online within a few minutes.
The reality is, virtually none of the "professionals" providing us with news over traditional means are professional journalists either. Even those that are, once they're out of their comfort zone and specialty, are hopelessly stumbling about trying to cover subjects about which they know little. Expertise in 0 to 60 in two days. The concept that a truly professional journalist can competently cover any subject is extreme narrow-casting (as in, an evening news surface level of coverage), wearing cultural blinders and hopelessly old fashioned. I might wish for, in this promised future of interactive journalism, where readers can provide instant feedback (whether it's read or not is another question) and supposedly, journalists will consult with the communities they're covering in real time. Those reporting on such stories as the Rehoboth Beach affair will actually ask trans people for their insights into what happened and their perspectives on covering such a story. Conversation... what a concept.
Postscript: AP has finally posted a corrected version of their initial story.
Addendum to the Postscript to the final addendum to the supplement:
I believe this is a photo of the persons in question. If so, they sure do look transmasculine to me and therefore... virtually all the coverage of this episode (including mine) is a total farce! I love this story.