We don’t need to justify ourselves to anyone. We don’t need a reason to be queer. Maybe we were born this way, maybe we weren’t. Maybe sexuality is fluid for some people and not for others. It’s totally irrelevant either way. The message we need to send to heterosexists is not that our sexuality was foisted upon us and that they should be “tolerant” and “understanding”. The message is: our sexuality is perfectly valid and none of your business, we offer you no excuses, and we are never going away."
When members of the media report on cis women who have changed their names—either through marriage or for some other reason—they don’t tend to say, “Jane Smith, who was born Jane Johnson.” Yet when members of the media are reporting on trans women they, as a matter of routine, almost always give the name the woman doesn’t use, saying something to the effect of: “Jane Smith, who was born John Smith.”
The difference in how cis women who have taken on new names, often by marriage, and how trans women are treated by the media is glaringly obvious. While journalist will often cite some made up journalist imperative to rationalize their use of the wrong name for trans women, these arbitrary double standards with which they report on former names are revealing.
In both cases, the former names of both cis women and trans women are not actually news. These are not the women’s names. There is no need to bring these not-their-names into the stories.
We don’t see this same thing happen with the married names of cis women. This is because there is not a strong socio-political interest in invalidating the relationships and marriages of straight, cis women. (The exception where we might see this happen is with regard to cis lesbian couples. By using a cis lesbian’s former name from before her marriage the reporter can not-so-subtly undermine the women’s relationship as less real than that of a straight cis woman who takes her husband’s name.)
So what reporters are really doing when they use names that trans women don’t go by is helping to perpetuate cissexism. They’re using those names that are traditionally associated with males in ways that misgender these women and confirm cissexist beliefs about who trans women “really” are.
This consistent invalidation and marginalization of trans women by the media is a contributing factor to the specific oppressive and violent incidents that these reporters are (poorly) covering. Over and over again, in stories reporting on the deaths of young trans women of color, the reporters will give a woman’s former name in a way that invalidates her gender as a woman. Yet these women are often killed by people using the exact same cissexist logic of disrespect and invalidation. One cannot be separated from the other. These women are not random victims in the wrong place at the wrong time. Rather, their deaths fit a very specific pattern that is reinforced by the society we live in. A society that is bolstered by the way the media reinforces these patterns in its reporting.
I think this might be a general go to for the media for all trans people, actually.
Tom: Emily, you know Emily, Emily, you know, you know… GIRLS can have GIRLFRIENDS, and BOYS can have BOYFRIENDS.
Me: You’re right! I have a girlfriend, you know. She’s lovely.
Tom: (sadly) But why can’t boys marry boys?
Me: Well, that’s tricky. They’re going to change the law so it’s okay. But for now, you can get kind of married, just not in a church.
Tom: Oh! So you can get married in a village hall!
Tom: (hopefully) Maybe when I’M grown-up, they’ll have changed the law by then.
Me: FINGERS CROSSED, TOM.