‘ERUPTION OF VESUVIUS’
“After the initial surprise that a group would come into the office for a discussion, I was unsure whether it would be a conversation or a presentation. The background info on some of the more unusual interactions was intriguing. It was a very good combination of personal experience/opinion and more general and social/political facts about trans.”
Lisa Markwell, executive editor, The Independent on Sunday
The sixth interaction was held at The Independent offices in Kensington. Our initial plan was to bring two journalists to the ‘Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum’ exhibition at the British Museum, hence the theme for the interaction had been ‘Eruption of Vesuvius’. Luckily for us more participants came on board, so we decided to meet five journalists and editors from The Independent, The Independent i and Independent on Sunday at their office. At a group interaction, we divide everyone into pairs which rotate after about 20 minutes, giving journalists a chance to chat to at least two trans people, one on one. In between the more intimate conversations, we have group discussions to share anything that is particularly surprising or interesting. Each interaction held with media professionals is designed to give people a chance to ask questions, share thoughts and engage without an agenda.
Excavation of a city – understanding the newsroom
One discussion touched on the recent Suzanne Moore – Julie Burchill row and how, as a result, journalists have been made more aware of trans issues in the last few months. It was mentioned that people in the newsroom often nervously “tread on eggshells” for fear of “getting it wrong”. One editor made the point that journalists face severe time constraints and mistakes can and do happen. He said that, if given more time, the instinct would be to correct those mistakes.
“This is such a wonderful project and one that we should all be very proud of and one that I am grateful to be a part of. Over the course of the last twenty years I have seen and heard many people who come to identify as being transgender become the novelty act of the tabloid press. It does not matter who you are either. We all seem to be found out and made to feel that we have done something wrong when in real terms all we have done is been ourselves!”
Jacqui Gavin, volunteer
Rare finds – pronouns and terminology
Two news reporters asked, “how do we refer to trans people?” They asked how correct terminology can be used in a way that ensures that reporting is accurate whilst respecting the individual by using the right pronouns. This can often pose a problem to journalists who often use the pronoun of a person before they transitioned if the event in question happened at that time. They say that this is done out of a desire for accuracy, not to cause offence. One of our volunteers made the point that if someone has chosen a pronoun to identify themselves with, then, out of respect, this is the pronoun to use when reporting, regardless of what they were called before. Paris responded to this by suggesting, where possible, they phone the person they’re referring to, and ask them which pronoun they prefer to use. She mentioned that the negative impact misgendering can have is part of a broad spectrum of issues that trans people face in fighting to be recognised for who they are. These issues contribute to high rates of depression and suicide amongst the trans community and so it is extremely important to spend that extra time thinking about pronouns.
Last moments fixed forever – stories shared
Volunteers spoke about how it was “time to move forward” and that everyone can make an effort to improve understanding of all marginalised groups. One editor was moved by the “incredible stories” she heard while another expressed how interesting it was to hear different perspectives not normally heard on a daily basis. Sarah Morrison told us how refreshing it was to “sit down and talk face-to-face with people about issues that they had personal insight and knowledge of”. Lisa Markwell said it was remarkable that this kind of meeting never happens in newsrooms. She said she thought we were on the right track with this approach and said that every marginalised group should be having interactions with journalists.
Towards the end of the interaction, we were asked whether a “dummies guide” to trans issues and terminology existed. We spoke to them about A Transgender Primer, a publication commissioned by Channel 4 and compiled by Flamingo, and sent them all copies. The Independent staff asked us for the following:
1. Create a short “dummies guide” or info sheet for journalists (which we are currently working on).
2. Be more proactive about approaching them positively and constructively with interesting stories
3. Call on them for introductions to others in the media. They put us in touch with feature writers at the Daily Mail . (It was particularly interesting for us to know that the Daily Mail offices were in the same building and that there is often a crossover of staff between both publications).
Watch a video with volunteers from the interaction:
If you work in the media and are interested in coming on an interaction or hearing more about the project, please contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org and 0207 3244790.