The power of positive reporting

Smiley face

In the news this week was a study that showed “fifty-five percent of trans people were found to live with social anxiety. Within the general American population, similar types of anxiety are experienced by only 6.8% of the population while these levels of anxiety were found to exist at a rate of 8.2% among military personal.” This statistic is sad, but unsurprising. We know from numerous studies that rates of violence and discrimination towards the trans community, in particular transwomen, are higher than in the cisgender population. Little wonder then that trans people feel anxious!

This week I completed the “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves” survey: The Trans Bodies project appears very worthwhile and aims to produce “a resource guide for the transgender population, covering health, legal issues, cultural and social questions, history, theory, and more”. If it succeeds in creating an accessible, one-stop reference for “transgender and gender-questioning people, their partners and families, students, professors, guidance counselors, and others to look for up-to-date information on transgender life” then that will be time and money well-spent.

The survey contained some interesting and thought-provoking questions (as well as the ones you would expect!). It took me about 2.5 hours to complete (with a much-needed break), and covered a wide range of aspects of “trans life”. However, the whole experience left me feeling somewhat depressed.

I think what depressed me was that the survey writers seemed to take a default position that assumed that all transgender people have at some time been offended, mistreated, discriminated against, not recognised, outcasts, disrespected, unable to maintain relationships, in trouble with the law, and had their wishes ignored. It seemed, as I worked manfully through it, that each page of the survey had at least one downbeat question so that, by the end of it, I began to wonder whether I was missing something, whether my journey wasn’t quite as valid as others because I hadn’t suffered in some way for simply being me.

I am well aware that abuse is a reality for many transgender/transsexual people, so maybe I have been uniquely fortunate? Or maybe, just maybe, there are more people like me in the community who have supportive families and friends, understanding workplaces, and are under the watch of concerned and caring professional healthcare providers? Unfortunately, if there are, they don’t make the headlines. Being comfortable with your lot in life isn’t newsworthy.

The article (above) in Transadvocate went on to say that the American Psychological Association reported in 2012 that “in the largest survey to date of gender variant and transgender people 41% reported attempting suicide”. Obviously this figure is higher than in the population as a whole, and therefore cause for serious concern. But, turn it on its head and 59% (the majority) of gender variant and transgender people have not been driven to such a dark place. That’s pretty good, isn’t it? Especially when you consider how intolerant society can be towards transgender/transsexual people. It goes without saying that there is a lot more work to do to improve this figure, but you get my point about the glass being half full?

I have to confess that, having felt okay about life before this week, I am beginning to wonder whether I should be more anxious as a trans person! I am not having a go at Transadvocate and Trans Bodies. I am simply using them as an example from this week to ask a question: in the information age, where anyone can read anything in the public domain, how helpful is it for the trans community to paint such an unremittingly bleak picture of the life of their members? Trans people are not the only ones who read these pieces. If our own community continues to fill its media content with stories of violence and abuse, what impression does it leave on the world? That trans people are already down so it’s okay to kick them? More importantly, what hope does it give to the trans community? If I come out as trans, I can expect a life of utter misery?

I am not in any way suggesting that the abuse of transgender/transsexual people should be whitewashed. It shouldn’t, and, whilst the mainstream media likes covering these stories in graphic detail, it won’t be. But, in order to balance their coverage, the media that is, for want of a better descriptor, sympathetic to the trans community could celebrate more of the community’s triumphs (even the small ones). You never know, it might help trans people feel that the world isn’t such a bad place and those anxiety rates might start to fall?

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