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The Media's Coverage of Transgender People: I'm Never Surprised

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When a media outlet calls a trans woman a "man," I'm not surprised. When a website asks trans children questions about "the surgery," I'm not surprised. When a television network feels the need to include a trans person's "real name" in reporting, I'm not surprised.

While none of this surprises me, it all disappoints me.

Earlier this week The Huffington Post syndicated a column by Chris Purdy of the Canadian Press. The article, "Wren Kauffman, Edmonton Transgender Boy, Shares Story At School," was clearly written with the best intentions.

The story outlines Wren's openness about the fact that he, at 11 years old, is transgender. I can't imagine being as open about who I was at that age. Good for him.

I dove into the article, eager to read the story of this brave young man, but the first sentence stopped me in my tracks:

When 11-year-old Wren Kauffman goes back to school this week, he won't be hiding the fact that he's actually a girl.

No, no, no. Wren is not "actually a girl." If anything, the article should have read that he's a boy who was assigned "female" at birth. I continued reading, hoping that that was a one-time slip-up. By the time I'd reached the second sentence, I realized that this wouldn't be the case:

Teachers, friends and other students at his Edmonton school know the truth -- that he's a girl on the outside, but feels like a boy on the inside. And that's why, even at such a young age, he has chosen to live in the world as the opposite sex, and not keep it a secret.

Again, this is incorrect. He's not a "girl on the outside." Look at his picture. He looks just like any other 11-year-old boy. Also, he has not "chosen to live in the world as the opposite sex," which sounds more like something someone in the Witness Protection Program would do, or something someone does on Halloween. What was described was a performance, not a reality.

Wren's own words highlight his strength: "If you're not yourself, then it kind of gets sad and depressing." Exactly! It is almost impossible to be someone or something you're not without there being severe emotional distress attached to it.

The article later needlessly mentions Wren's birth name and calls him "she" and a "daughter." Again, none of this surprises me, but it's yet another reminder that the majority of journalists, even the ones who mean well, cannot take the 15 minutes necessary to learn the correct and respectful way to refer to transgender individuals in reporting.

The final bit of insensitivity, and the portion of the column that prompted this response, was when the journalist did something I find entirely reprehensible:

At 18, he'll be legally old enough to have sex reassignment surgery. Wren says he's not sure yet if he wants to take that final step. He's just excited to start Grade 7.

No, sexual reassignment surgery is not the "final step," which is to imply that without it, Wren isn't really a boy. Also, if surgical intervention was not explicitly brought up, why does Ms. Purdy presume that it's something that all transgender people need or want? The response to the reporter's intrusive question about plans for surgery -- "He's just excited to start Grade 7" -- highlights just how insensitive asking an 11-year-old what his plans are for his genitals.

People of the media, please stop whatever you're doing and head over to GLAAD's Media Reference Guide for guidelines on how to report on transgender individuals. The entire page will take you less than 15 minutes to read, and hopefully you can actually surprise me by getting it right in the future.