Maloney baloney: Kellie faces the world
Sunday 10 August, 2014
There are many things that make the hearts of trans people sink, but high up on that list - just under the big ones like freedom from violence and discrimination, access to healthcare and equality under the law - comes the red- top sex-swap shocker.
Anyone living in the second decade of the 21st century who still finds it surprising that a small minority of people change gender, would have had to have spent their entire life with a box on their head. While we can all probably think of editors and news editors to whom this may apply, it is a bit of a stretch to assume that readers are quite so sheltered and backwards.
After all, was not one of the most universally loved characters on Coronation Street, the recently deceased Haley Cropper, trans?
So, it takes a spectacularly unimaginative and lazy kind of news team to decide, in 2014, that it really is world exclusive, hold-the-splash-and-three-spreads news when Kellie Maloney, formerly Frank, a middle-aged boxing promoter, decides that she has to transition and is happy - presumably - to speak to the press about life after her decision.
What is the big deal? Shock-sensation reports on people changing gender have been a staple of the red-top diet since the 1960s. Sometimes cod-sympathetic, more often openly hostile, it is by now a format so utterly played out as to be no longer news at all. That's right, not even a nib.
Outside the world of boxing, Maloney is a nobody. There is nothing even slightly remarkable about her transition story. If anything, it seems thoroughly old fashioned. No, there is nothing unusual about Maloney aside from the fact that she has a public profile in a sport that celebrates extreme violence, manliness and, sadly, all too often misogyny.
A secret gender traitor in a super-macho world? It'll be a surprise if she doesn't get a good hiding...
Which is pretty much where this supposedly sympathetic piece takes us as it drools over the fears around telling family and friends, rubs its thighs over the "secret" dressing up and the implied retribution when the "macho" world of boxing discovers that it has been infiltrated and deceived by a trans woman; finally, it comes to a juddering climax with a puff to tomorrow's Mirror: 'The Day I Nearly Killed Myself'.
If I were a young trans person reading this, I'd be utterly terrified and thoroughly confused. Is this what it is like? Is this what I have to do? Must I wear beige courts? Thankfully, the answer to all of these questions is no.
Familial rejection, violence and even suicidal thoughts are indeed familiar ground for trans people and deserve to aired in the sun - but not like this.
Thanks to the hundreds of thousands of trans people who have already walked this path and fought for their rights, such threats to safety and well-being are receding as those who like to dish it out find themselves on the wrong side of history.
Still, you could be forgiven for not realising that as the Mirror team helpfully turns the clock back and reminds us - repeatedly - of how Kellie looks now and how she looked when she lived as Frank, apparently oblivious to the irony of a short 'expert' commentary that notes: "most people with gender dysphoria face a very difficult time changing sex. For Kellie this is harder because of her old public image". It certainly won't be any easier this morning.
So, what can journalists do to report trans people and issues?
It's pretty easy. Call us by the name and gender we use now, respect our privacy, try not to fixate on what is between our legs and don't try to impede our access to healthcare (I'm looking at you, Daily Mail).
Finally, even some of the worst offenders can change - recently The Sun has been trying very hard to get it right. Watch and learn, Mirror.
A look at the Monday papers
Katherine may not have thought it worth a story, but every paper in Fleet Street disagreed. The Mirror and Sun both made it their splash, backed up with a 4-5 spread. For the rest it was a right-hand lead, with the i putting it furthest back on page 23.
Some re-reported yesterday's Mirror story, others tried to freshen it up with the "boxing backs Maloney" angle. That approach may have been well-intentioned, but it jarred - as though approval from Ricky Hatton, Lennox Lewis - even the footballer Stan Colymore - were needed for Maloney to continue with her transition.
The rash of commentaries from boxing correspondents also felt uncomfortable, for what could they say other than "Well, fancy that! I'd never have guessed." Kevin Mitchell in the Guardian was clearly so astounded that he felt the need to put "assuming this is not one of Maloney's famous hoaxes" in parentheses. The Mail at least came up with a little sidebar from Jane Fae on her own experience
The Times had an extraordinary non sequitur intro, but it also had a sensible quote from Bernard Reed of the Gender Identity Research and Education Society and from "transgender campaigner" Paris Lees on why Maloney's public statements were significant.
The Sun also ran a little bit from Reed, and the Guardian spoke to TG Pals, which has been helping Maloney through her transition. But beyond that, there were no statistics nor any effort to put her situation into a wider context - either to enlighten the uninformed or to point to sources of support for others who might be going through the sort of despair that Maloney describes in the Mirror today.
And how did the papers measure up to Katherine O'Donnell's guidelines? Not too well: they all used "before" pictures, many were muddled over whether to refer to Maloney as he or she - the Express refers to her as "he" throughout, others use "he" for the boxing promoter and "she" for Kellie as she is now.
There was no fixation on what was between her legs, but there was an unnecessary fixation with hair.
Mirror pages 1, 4-5
Sun pages 1, 4-5
Express page 9
Guardian page 7
i page 23
Independent page 13
Mail page 21
Star page 9
Telegraph page 3
Times page 5
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