Amid Wave Of Anti-Trans Bills, Trans Reporters Say 'Telling Our Own Stories' Is Vital
At least 35 states are considering bills that target transgender youth, according to the bipartisan Freedom For All Americanscampaign.
The bills range from restricting what team trans athletes can compete on to making it nearly impossible for those under 18 to receive gender-affirming health care. A handful of states have signed some of these bills into law, the latest being Tennessee.
News organizations report on these bills every day, and more often than not, the reporters telling these stories don't have firsthand experience living as a trans person. But for those who do, they say it adds to their reporting and helps build trust with their sources.
"I think that it's really important for us to be telling our own stories," says journalist Imara Jones, creator of TransLash Media, which approaches stories about trans people through the lens of journalism and personal narrative.
The dynamic for me was the motivation to go out and create something that would do that unapologetically and in a way where we didn't have editors questioning, or blocking, or undermining the perspectives that we need to be told," says Jones.
Telling trans stories in traditional newsrooms tends to be harder than it should be, Jones says.
Other independent newsrooms have been created in recent years to focus on specific issues and communities. Kate Sosin is an LGBTQ+ reporter for The 19th, which focuses on the intersection of gender, politics and policy.
"We don't really engage in a back and forth about whether or not trans people are valid," Sosin says. "That's a line we've drawn that I think other news organizations are still trying to figure out."
Sosin says there is a difference between the ways cisgender and trans journalists approach coverage on different transgender issues, including trans youth. They say a cis reporter might center the voices of anti-trans sources, but Sosin focuses on making sure the kids can trust them with getting their stories.
"I'm not going to misgender you in this article, or deadname you, or ask you invasive medical questions," Sosin says about interviewing trans kids. "I understand that your life is on the line with this bill."
There are critics who question the objectivity of trans journalists and other reporters from marginalized backgrounds.
Orion Rummler is a general breaking news reporter at Axios. He says that one way he underscores the impact of these anti-trans bills while remaining objective is by telling the story through numbers.
"I said, okay, how can we round up all the bills and compare them to the last few years and make a graph that shows what a big deal this is and why we need to cover it?" Rummler says.
Having had conversations with others who don't believe his way of living is appropriate, Rummler says that actually gives him an advantage as a journalist.
"I'd say I'm probably more familiar with the anti-trans point of view than your average cisgender reporter."
Jones shares a similar sentiment. She says that being a trans journalist means she knows her beat really well and that makes her effective.
"I think that for other communities, quite frankly, no one ever says that you're white, so you can't write about white people," Jones said. "We need to extend that same consciousness and that same grace to all communities."
She says objectivity is a false idea designed to make people feel unchallenged.
"Our job is to be able to tell readers what we have found, why we have found it, and present it in a way that's fair," Jones says. "That's the job, is to be actually fair, not to be objective, because no one is completely objective."
As for how covering issues about the trans community — and the national debate over the right for trans people to just exist — affects these three journalists personally, Rummler sees it as a privilege to be able to cover these stories.
He's been able to connect with a family trying to raise funds to move to New Mexico from Arkansas. Arkansas became the first state to ban gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors in the state back in April.
"They've lived in the state for 16 years and they say they need to go somewhere else that supports their transgender son," Rummler says. "So to me, that's the focus in my reporting here. I'm not telling my story in these articles, I'm telling the stories of other people."
For Jones and Sosin, they also manage to build a level of separation when covering these stories — but it's not always that easy.
"The tough part for me is that I'm talking to transgender children who say I don't want to be trans anymore. Or I wish that I wasn't who I am or I don't see a future for myself. That to me is the trauma of these bills," Sosin says.
Sosin says they didn't always want to be an LGBTQ+ beat reporter, but they learned "it was really powerful to be a trans person telling trans stories."
Though not every news outlet has a trans reporter covering trans issues, Rummler says that mainstream outlets are mostly getting stories about trans issues right, and keeping up this work means hiring more trans people for newsroom roles, including leadership.
"If you're in a newsroom where there's not a lot of other trans people and you want to make sure all the coverage is right...it can fall on you to ensure that the coverage is right," Rummler says. "I think newsrooms need to be thinking about the future of their coverage, which should have more LGTBQ reporters in it."
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