TIME Media

The Wrong Way To Write About Trans People

Transgender Mixed Martial Arts Fighter
Fallon Fox trains at her local gym in Schaumburg, Ill., April 25, 2013. Sally Ryan / ZUMA Press

Mixed Martial Arts fighter Fallon Fox on what the media fails to understand

Editor’s note: Fallon Fox is a transgender mixed martial arts fighter. Last week, Grantland, an ESPN website, published a story about the inventor of a golf putter who committed suicide. In Grantland’s story, the author revealed that the inventor was transgender. The story’s treatment of the subject elicited criticism and drew a response from the site’s editor. Fox shared her response with TIME.

Dear journalists and editors,

I know that you are watching everything I post. So, pay attention. The “Dr. V’s Magical Putter” story is an example of what not to do. I just heard about this today and it just about made me vomit. It unfortunately highlights the ignorance, lack of empathy, and exploitation of trans people.

Time and time again I’ve been flabbergasted at the lack of understanding in media in regards to why trans people may omit or even lie in some situations about their past. As if the reasoning for protecting oneself in a country where violence and discrimination of trans people isn’t obvious. I’ve sat and pondered why some in media can be so cruel to us.

How could they be so blind? How could they not put themselves in another person’s shoes? And I’ve come to a conclusion. Many of you may get it–you may actually care, and many of you may not. However, it doesn’t really matter does it? In the end, it’s not really about treating the subject with respect. It’s about getting the most views, notoriety, and money. Editors need stories that will sell. And what sells more than controversy? We all know that if something is considered “strange” it’s likely to fall into the “controversial” category. And yes, because trans people are so few–and physical transition is so new–we are looked at as “strange.”

(COVER STORY: The Transgender Tipping Point)

The “Dr. V’s Magical Putter” story made me wonder if any of the journalist or editors involved paid any attention in their 5th grade history class. Did they even read the stories of mixed-race Americans who could pass as white shortly after slavery? Many of those early Americans omitted their past or even lied in order to protect themselves from harm. They faced discrimination, losing many of the friends and support around them, and even violence if anyone found out that they had even the slightest amount of black heritage. Those history stories were not just told to us in our youth just to show what happened to black people. We were supposed to take lessons from those stories and apply them to other groups in the future. We were supposed to not allow history to repeat itself. Some in media are failing miserably in this in relation to trans people. They reinforce the notion that trans folk are not as worthy of respect as other groups of people because we are oddities.

Much like my black ancestors who were of mixed race and could pass as white, I hid my trans status (unless confronted on it). Much like my ancestors I’ve had to deal with society telling me what restroom I could or could not use or what spaces I could not occupy. Much like my ancestors I lived in fear for my life or being physically harmed by people who hate on other humans for being slightly different. History consistently repeats itself because people consistently drop the ball–because of greed.

I could sit here and type away–I could write a book about what it’s like to have to deal with gender dysphoria. I could express what it’s like to have to spend loads of money in order to match one’s body to their gender. I could go on and on about what it’s like to deal with family and friends on this issue, or to lose ones livelihood. But, would that even matter? I think not. What really matters is your bosses’ perception of their ability to make money from a story. How many trans people have to be pestered and questioned about their past when they obviously want to not talk about it? How many trans people have to be driven to suicide or endure incredible amounts of mental torment because you just couldn’t help yourselves? I suppose we will find out.

And yes, I’ve been close to suicide myself over this. Fortunately, I had a support network in place, teammates and loved ones around me who actually care about me existing. They supported me, and it helped me stay here. But, what helps keeps me going the most is the opportunity to put a dent in all of this nonsense directed at trans people. Sometimes it feels like I am a tiny drop fighting an ocean. If that is the reality then so be it. But, I will not be taking my own life. I refuse to go out like that. If I’m going to go out, then I’m going out swinging. That is my way of dealing with all of the pain I have had to deal with.

This life is precious, as it is the only one that I get to live. I wish that I had it like the rest of you. I wish that I didn’t have to deal with the knife that some in media like to try to twist in my side, all for trying to experience happiness and success just like everyone else. But, that’s not my lot in life. No, the reality is that it’s more likely I was born ahead of my time. I may never enjoy the the acceptance that trans people are likely to have in the future. But, I can do my part to help change things for them. And that gives my life meaning.

If media entities want to avoid what happened to the editors of the “Dr. V’s Magical Putter” story they need to do something very important. They need to have transgender sensitivity training. They need to be educated on trans issues. They need to attempt to wrap their heads around what it’s like to be a trans person if they even suspect that the individual they are doing a piece on is transgender. The editors need this training even if they “think” they know about trans people. This goes for MMA media also. The journalist and commentators from ESPN to AXS TV also need training. A small investment like this would go a long way in ensuring that their company isn’t looked at negatively. It is all so avoidable.

Fallon Fox is a mixed martial arts fighter.

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