‘Becoming Trans News’: A Month Later

Becoming Trans News is headed towards its end and thus far, the results of Dr. Fink and I’s study has been intriguing. We initially set out to conduct interviews with 10 non-prominent trans and gender nonconforming individuals who have been featured in the news thus far in 2018. However, we had enough potential interviewees get back to us that we’ve actually conducted 12 interviews for the research.

I am still completing the color coding of two remaining interviews to find consistencies and common themes from them. However, many commonalities have already been discovered. For example, we found that all 12 of our respondents agreed to speak to journalists because they felt it was right to give back to the community in a sense by educating the audience on an important topic, or give a perspective that is rarely seen in the media. As one respondent put it, “I feel a sense a responsibility to speak out, not an obligation.” That feeling of responsibility to speak out in the news media may be unique to the trans and gender nonconforming demographic, as I highly doubt other groups (outside of activists and not-for-profit workers) agree to be featured in the news almost entirely to promote awareness about issues in their community such as health insurance, conflicts with authority figures, self-care, employment and other topics.

Despite some qualms that many of the respondents expressed they had about becoming a public person–including one who said the article he was featured in could have potentially been seen by his transphobic father–they all agreed to do so, which was an interesting find. Also, a decent number of the respondents faced some repercussions from the article they were in–ranging from rude comments to death threats– but all 12 stated they would be open to being interviewed by a journalist again.

On a positive note, there were plenty of respondents who also received positive reaction from friends, family and even strangers. One respondent even said they were contacted by a reader who wanted to donate money to his top surgery fund because they were so touched by the story he was featured in.

We also found that respondents interviewed by more niche publications, rather than major or local publications that usually do not cover transgender issues, expressed the interview was easier to go through. With outlets or journalists that were not used to covering trans people, many of our respondents explained how they had to educate the interviewers on topics pertaining to non-cisgender people. One respondent said: “I was kind of surprised how little that [the journalist] had prepared, or at least sought about or read into the subject.”

Reactions to the articles seriously varied. Some interviewees were upset on inaccuracies in stories they were featured in, the length of the article, their role in the article, the intricacies of how the story was written, journalists putting their words of context, using the wrong terminology and much more. Others expressed happiness with the care the journalists took into the article and giving them a voice in their outlet. Some of these issues, of course, are not exclusive to trans and gender nonconforming individuals, but it is still significant to see how ordinary individuals in general react to being featured in the news, considering there are very few studies regarding this.

Luckily, there has not been any challenges or roadblocks facing us during this research. Respondents got back to us in a very timely fashion, and each person interviewed was very open about their experience being featured in the news and the affect it had on them and their loved ones.

A success that sticks out to me was getting such a diverse group of individuals to speak with us. We had individuals who just completed their first year of college and other who have been working professionals for decades. There was also ethnic diversity among respondents, along with different gender identities. So this research displays the reality for a majority of ordinary trans and gender nonconforming people featured in the media, not just a specific group within the community.

There are a plethora of lessons I learned thanks to this research. For starters, I have a better overall understanding of how academic research works and the necessary time dedicated to make it all run smoothly without any setbacks. Through this project, I’ve learned about questions that particularly trans and gender nonconforming people find offensive or invasive to ask. This research also gives me and other journalists insight on what the interviewees are thinking from the time we contact them for an interview to the time they read the story. Respondents described a mix of nervousness, anxiety and excitement they felt throughout the entire process, which is something journalists may not always take into account since we do interviews so often.

This research has helped me immensely with my future in journalism. The issues the interviewees expressed about certain things journalists did helps me know what I should/should not do in the long run as I aspire to have a career in covering topics that affect the LGBTQIA community. For example, I now know that asking someone about their birth name–also known as their “dead name”– is a question that should never be asked.

Overall, we’ve made plenty of progress since last month and we are preparing to complete it in time to present it at the Undergraduate Research Day and hopefully present it at media conventions. I am so grateful for the opportunity we’ve had thus far to do this potentially groundbreaking research.

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