So what is going on here? We have a sociologist in public health writing an Op-Ed about the UK’s gender healthcare and its lack of coverage in the NZ media, framing it with a deeply suspicious piece of client-seeking from a law firm and claiming that the equivalent NZ model was not known, or reported on.
A Media Story
My eventual published response engaged with this issue, by focusing not just on the content of Cass but the media environment from which Dr. Donovan drew their sources. They are, in order and in full; The Times, The Times, The Cass Review, The Telegraph, The Cass Review, the same The Times article as the beginning, the Ministry of Health, and the NHS.
This is at heart, a story about media. With statements like;
“Lack of local media reporting on significant international developments on child and youth gender treatment is leaving New Zealand families to make life-changing decisions in an information vacuum”
“But you wouldn’t know it from reading the papers here.”
“So why the media silence on this in New Zealand?”
“But there has been no coverage locally in mainstream media. Should New Zealand families have to fish around to learn about these newsworthy international developments by chance?”
“I would expect to be able to read about this and related stories in New Zealand media coverage, and to see commentary by health and social issues journalists and by science communicators.”
“What a great piece of local investigative journalism that would make.”
It’s pretty obvious Dr. Donovan would like more media attention on this issue.
Given they had a mainstream media Op-Ed, you do wonder why they didn’t set out to answer their questions about NZ’s gender healthcare model by clicking through on the webpage they visited for the MoH. But then again, this is about the media not covering this issue, as they are in the United Kingdom. So let's talk about that UK media coverage.
The UK Media Is Transphobic
For every Times article insisting 1,000 families are expected to take legal action, quoting one single source who happens to be the executive of the law firm attempting to recruit clients, there’s a i article with quotes from other legal professionals and statistics from GIDS which undermines the hyperbole of the Times.
For every Times article declaring the Tavistock GIDS was forced to close and saying the centre was “accused of rushing vulnerable children into treatment” not by Dr. Cass’ report but by another Times column, there’s this PinkNews article about families of trans kids welcoming the closure of the service which they had to use, as there were no other options.
For every Telegraph article about then Health Secretary Sajid Javid launching an “urgent inquiry” in gender health services, there’s a Guardian article pointing out that the Cass Review literally is that inquiry and that Mr Javid’s bluster might have something to do with the crisis the government has been engulfed in for the majority of 2022.
If you quote the conservative media, and even a large quantity of the supposed liberal media in the UK, you are more than likely going to be quoting a media organisation with an identified and repeated pattern of transphobia.
Don’t take it from me though, the anti-trans rhetoric of the British media has been subject to several different articles from many publications overseas, all trying to work out just what it is that’s behind this deeply toxic transphobia. Yes, each one of those is a separate article about it.
Hell, there’s even been a study by Professor Paul Baker at the University of Lancester, UK, which found:
The UK press wrote over 6,000 articles about trans people in 2018–19. On the surface there appear to have been improvements — the more sexualising and joking uses of language around trans people have reduced since 2012 and there are many more stories around transphobia and inclusivity. However, there are large swathes of the press which write about these topics in order to be critical of trans people and many articles which consequently paint trans people as unreasonable and aggressive. The picture suggests that the conservative press and most of the tabloids have shifted from an openly hostile and ridiculing stance on trans people towards a carefully worded but still very negative stance.
This week, the writer Owen Jones gave a blistering defence of trans people and their treatment by the media at the Pink News awards. At the same awards, Labour’s Emily Thornberry and Zarah Sultana did the same, the SNP’s John Nicholson explained how The Sun had ‘inned’ him by assuming he, a gay man, was having a heterosexual affair. Its worth noting that The Sun has a long ugly history of outing celebrities, often contacting them before running a story to ‘get their side of it’, a deliberately coercive tactic. Oh and even Lord Duncan, a Tory peer, castigated his own party’s Government for their transphobic rhetoric.
If you’re wanting more, the Dysphorum data project has developed some arresting visual statistics about the coverage of trans issues in the UK media — remembering the ‘negative stance’ Prof. Baker has found:
From January 1st 2020 to the end of September 2022, 33 months, the Conservative press of The Daily Mail, The Times and The Telegraph published 3,902 articles about trans people. 118 a month. 27 a week. 4 a day. That doesn’t includ other right-wing outlets included there such as The Sun, The Express, UnHerd, The Spectator, Spiked and, oh god, Breitbart — who account for another 2,414 articles. That’s 62.5% of all the articles in the British media about trans people, 6,316 in total. 191 a month. 47 a week.
Hey, maybe that’s a normal amount of coverage, right? Well, 2010 and 2015 there were just 320 articles, in all of the publications in the chart above, published about trans people. Between 2015 and 2020, the number increased to 5,581 articles. Since Jan 2020 there have been 10,101 articles published.
There’s also this depressing graph, which has tracked the same publishing data and compared it with the hate crimes against trans people statistics, also from the Dysphorum project.
You can see the problem, eh.
So Why The Silence?
There are a couple of questions that need answering here. The original Op-Ed argues that the situation involving the UK’s Gender Identity Service should be more widely covered in NZ media, claiming that there is an ‘information vacuum’. But, as we’ve seen, the NZ model is very transparent — right down to being able to answer the majority of the questions posed in the Op Ed with just a few clicks of a website.
The information is here, so why precisely do we need to cover the situation in the UK?
There’s also the choices made in evidencing the opinion. As you can see, for each of the links included in the original Op-Ed, there was other coverage that went into the sort of detail which undermines the ‘concerns’ the author was presenting. If it’s known that the UK media is trans-hostile, transphobic, whatever — then if you’re going to present concerns, doing so by using that media immediately raises questions, right?
So, there is a point here — and it’s that I agree with Dr. Donovan in one specific way. Yes, there hasn’t been enough media coverage about trans and gender healthcare in the UK, but specifically about how distorted and transphobic the British media environment has become over the last decade.
Again, don’t take my word for it, Dr Hilary Cass OBE had to write a separate letter about her interim report, highlighting that media coverage focusing on the ‘unsafe’ GIDS being ‘condemned’ ignored the intent and findings of the report — creating a better, more accessible and more efficient service for patients.
If NZ media does cover UK trans and gender issues, they absolutely have to bear in mind the completely different environment in which supposedly reputable newspapers find themselves in and contribute to. Graham Norton, the TV presenter, was recently asked about the issue and his response was;
“Talk to trans people, talk to the parents of trans kids, talk to doctors, talk to psychiatrists, to someone who can illuminate this in some way,”
Norton later deleted his twitter account after the anti-trans movement howled in protest about this statement. And that is something that has been sorely missing from UK media coverage, which spends more time on JK Rowling’s views on trans and gender healthcare than it does on trans and non-binary people, or their clinicians.
In NZ we have been fortunate that when we have had public debates over Self-ID or Banning Conversion Therapy, the discussion in the media has heard from trans and non-binary people, members of the lgbtq+ community who have experienced these things — as well as those who seek to demonise trans people, or prolong the quack hacker of conversion therapy to satisfy their prejudices.
Just this week, a known anti-transgender anti-vaccine activist was trespassed from a WINZ (Social Security) office for complaining about two posters: one with a rainbow on, one about asking for pronouns. The news report on it contained this;
In a video the woman recorded and posted online, she said she approached staff to ask “why there was a poster up promoting child sterilisation and males in female-only spaces”.
These are false arguments often used by anti-transgender people.
In New Zealand, the minimum age for gender reassignment surgery is 18 years old. Younger people can be prescribed by a health professional puberty blockers, which is a safe and reversible medication used to halt the progress of potentially unwanted puberty-related physical changes.
Which is good. It accurately describes the transphobic arguments as false, and disproves them with backed up information. A lot of NZ media does this, although there’s been a few recent examples of the relatively unquestioning presentation of some UK anti-trans activists as aggrieved victims.
But what the above article shows, and what the original opinion piece this series is about demonstrates, is that the arguments of much of the British anti-trans media establishment and the NZ homegrown transphobic movement are fucking bullshit. And unfortunately, in order to counter their bullshit, it takes a lot of leg-work from people who just want to get on with their lives.
That’s not to convince the anti-trans movement, by the way, there’s not much you can do about people who yell at posters in offices or repeat antisemitic conspiracy theories about George Soros or Big Pharma or ally themselves with the right-wing in the UK and US to attack trans rights.
No, it’s to make sure there is an opposing voice to misinformation, to ‘concerns’, to a blanket repetition of the talking points of a deeply toxic overseas media enviornment. Robbie Nicol presented a great introductory video to this last month, give it a watch!
So, I wrote a response to the Op-Ed. Next post will cover the challenges of that, thanks for reading.