Young people shared their ways of coping with media coverage of trans youth and trans healthcare . They talked about their experience of different types of media such as newspapers, news channels, online stories and social media. They talked about these topics in the following ways:
- The impact of media coverage
- Developing strategies: coping and self-care
- How trans and gender diverse people appear in film, television and online
Impact of media coverage
People talked about the impact that media coverage* had on their well-being and mental health. Many found it upsetting. Declan said, ‘I feel there’s no really positive trans media ever… there would be an anti-trans headline every single week and I’d have to walk past that every single week and just ignore it… it really gets me down’. Jacob said, ‘A lot of it is very depressing, I mean, no-one’s ever watched the news and gone, yippee, really. There’s lots going on in the world. But about trans specifically’.
Some said the coverage made them feel frustrated and angry. Summer said, ‘The whole thing really makes me angry.’ She said ‘I stopped reading the news for a while because I just would just keep seeing these stories …the horribly objectifying ways that they speak about us’. Cassie said, ‘All of these fucking talking points, I get so bored of. It’s boring and tiring and upsetting.’ She added, ‘being trans in public is tiring and upsetting enough and I don’t necessarily want to go and engage with a load of media about that.’ Michelle found it ‘deeply infuriating’ to read about media coverage of trans young people and the big impact it has on the trans community.
Sophie talks about her experience of the media and how it affects her and how she would like things to change.
A few people described how it affects their self-esteem and how they thought about themselves. Henry felt that the media coverage of trans healthcare has played a role in how he thinks about himself; ‘it’s really hard to switch off when there are parts of the media talking about trans people’. He said it ‘has an impact on how you see the world and… how everybody else in your life sees you… I’m always just very conscious of it.’
June shares an experience where the media debates impacted his working life.
Reuben said it does make you question yourself and your own identity it makes you feel invalid.
Finn said, ‘There’s too much negativity in the world and when I was younger I used to let it get to me a lot. I used to absolutely cry.’ Now though, ‘you learn to acknowledge the media… take it with a grain of salt, because the media doesn’t necessarily give you the full view or the full story. I don’t let it get to me. I just acknowledge that it exists and okay, that’s the headline and I’m moving on’. Jessica says, ‘It’s not really impacted me that much… I was like, yeah, that seems like nonsense.’ Charke feels it is important to challenge others. They said, ‘I like to confront them head on, I’m quite confrontational in that regard. I love discussing these things.’
Kat explains how they don’t get affected much by the media portrayal of trans people.
Developing strategies: coping and self-care
People described the various ways they coped with negative media coverage, and how they tried to care for and protect themselves when using social media (see also Trans and gender diverse young people’s experiences of getting support for their mental health). Many young people spoke about how they avoided the media or reading negative coverage. A said, ‘In general I’ve stopped following most news. I still stay just barely connected enough to keep track of what’s happening but… I’ve unfollowed news on all except one social media thing just because it’s just really depressing’.
M said, ‘Media coverage of trans healthcare is something that I try and stay away from as a much as I can because often it’s rooted in transphobia, it’s rooted in suspicion’. Summer said, ‘I stopped reading the news for while… I reached this point where I just couldn’t take it anymore.’
M says they try and stay away from these debates.
Patrick says the media coverage around young trans people has been vile…I found a lot of value in not checking the news.
Young people spoke about other ways of trying to stay updated with the news that worked for them, such as selecting channels and social media accounts that they trusted. Some were careful what content they watched. Eel said, ‘I barely watch the news. I mostly consume contents. Like if I know anything that’s going on in the world it’s either because of Instagram, Reddit or like my friend told me over my DM’s so I see a lot on my explore page [home page on Reddit].’
Others found ways to filter what they saw online. Jay said, ‘I have to block it out sometimes to be honest. I will sometimes mute certain words on Twitter so they don’t show up. You have to take a break sometimes because otherwise it can really get you down… it’s hard not to take it personally.’ They added ‘you have to separate yourself and realise, hang on, these people would never say this to my face.’ Michelle was ‘getting really anxious by reading media articles… and when I started investigating it myself and seeing what the situation actually is, I felt better afterwards’.
Michelle shares her message for trans people who are struggling with coping with online media negativity.
For those that did engage with the news, talking about it and sharing opinions with friends helped. Jacob said, ‘I watch the news, I read the news… I go and share it with a friend and talk about it and calm myself down.’ He said, ‘I don’t want to be uninformed. I’d rather know and be cross than be blissfully ignorant, because ignorance leads to arguments where I’m the uninformed one or whatever so I like to keep on top of what’s happening in the world.’ Max said he tries not to read about it ‘or usually like screenshot [and] send to my friends and just show how dumb they are, that kind of helps sometimes.’ He added ‘I’m not gonna be upset about it. I’m just gonna carry on living my truth.’
Beth says it’s really important to curate your social mediait’s about having a positive experience.
Young people also talked about focusing on hobbies and things that made them feel good. Cas said, ‘I go on YouTube to try and watch positive LGBT things or I make the comics that I make generally that people seem to like. Me doing a comic and drawing helps me so there’s that side of it. It’s that kind of helping people out which is also quite nice.’
Beth said they channel their anger about the media ‘into creating art, generally activism kind of art, protest art.’ They said, ‘for International Women’s Day in March… I made some posts about how you can celebrate women for things that… don’t boil them down to body parts… not everyone who has a vulva is a woman, and not every woman has a vulva.’
Charke talks about their experiences of engaging with the most toxic communities’ and entering into debates.
People felt encouraged by positive work being done by the trans community and trans charities such as Mermaids and Gendered Intelligence. Cas said, ‘it gets me down but I always know that there are charities like Mermaids, which are doing such good work to not only educate and inform, but provide services to young trans people’. They ‘go and look on whatever Mermaids [is] doing at the moment to try and remind myself that things are improving, even if it’s taking forever’. Patrick valued how ‘Gendered Intelligence send out positive [trans] news stories each week which is really nice to be able to see like remind yourself that there is positive stuff happening as well’.
N said, ‘I think feeling connected, even if it’s online and not in real life, feeling connected to other trans people is part of what really helps.’ They said, ‘I think honestly like activism [and] feeling like I’m doing something and that we have some agency and power in what’s happening to us and power to change it I think is part of it.’
Loges tries to stay in a bubble of trans positivity’ and talks about the importance of a supportive community.
How trans and gender diverse people appear in film, television and online
When discussing the media, participants talked more widely about the way trans people are represented in film, TV and online. Max felt it was ‘almost always negative, especially in movies.’ Young people said that trans characters were often joked about in television and film. Noelle said, ‘most of my encounters with [transgender people in the media] during my childhood were not very flattering. A lot of jokes, basically. Just being trans was like the butt of the joke.’
Jack said, ‘There still isn’t very much transgender representation and what little there is either seen as a joke and it’s mainly trans female, trans feminine representation… I can think of like Ace Ventura and that horribleness and like the scene in Austin Powers.’
Rahul talks about the representation of the Hijra communities and the impact on his family’s understanding of trans people.
Some spoke specifically about the lack of trans male and trans masculine characters. Theo said he’d ‘never seen any representation of trans men… trans men just have nothing.’ He felt it was difficult to know that ‘trans men exist’.’ Others commented on what seemed to count as an ‘acceptable representation’. Ezio said, ‘People have to be good looking to be accepted as trans, you have to be a good-looking man, you have to be a good-looking woman’.
M talks about the importance of black trans representation in their lives.
Young people shared what they would like to see in the future. Anderson said, ‘Actually just seeing trans people do normal things, it’s like not a thing and I don’t know why. Cos we’ve probably got a lot more insight to add, just having normal daily conversations’. Loges said, ‘I like to see myself actually being represented in shows instead of just like cis/straight people in shows.’ Max said, ‘I’d like to see more actual trans programmes or documentaries or stuff that’s made by other trans people and not by cis gender people… I think that would make a difference and as racially diverse [as] possible. Not just one side of the story.’ Sophie said, ‘It would be nice to have a trans superhero.’
Tyra talks about the burden for trans people when having to represent themselves in the media.
People shared the positive representations they had seen from film and television (see Journeys to identifying as trans and gender diverse). Alistair said, ‘sometimes the media strikes gold and does something really good like… the documentary ‘Seahorse’ … about the trans man that had his own baby and that was really good’. However, he added, ‘a lot of the time it [is] just slandering people’s choices… and making it like public property to talk about either someone’s surgery or like someone’s I don’t know, [their] identity when it shouldn’t be.’
Eel talks about the trans character Jules’ in the TV show Euphoria’ and other trans representation in the media.
Cassie talks about the HBomber Donkey Kong live stream event as reaction to media negativity.
* Interviews were conducted between 2019 – 2020.