25 November 2015

7 Things We Learned From Meeting the Mail on Sunday

The tricky road to progress

As part of this season’s series of media interactions we met with the managing editor and journalists at the Mail on Sunday for lunch. As with all the interactions, this was an opportunity to build relationships between the MoS staff and our group of volunteers with the aim of improving their coverage of trans and gender variant people.

Since the interaction, the Mail on Sunday published a piece about the community interest company Gendered Intelligence‘s work in schools. Whilst much of the article shone a light on the important work that GI does, it was disappointing for us to see this work (raising awareness of gender identity in schools) being made out to be controversial in the MoS piece, stating provocatively in the headline that “children as young as four were being given transgender lessons”.

Along with Jay Stewart, the founder of GI, we immediately raised our concerns with the managing editor who is now a supporter of our work following the interaction. He took on board our perspective and wrote a detailed response saying that from their point of view, their readers were still unsure of what it means to be trans and that for many of them education about gender diversity would be controversial. On this point we agreed to disagree and for many observers of our work, this may seem like a disheartening set-back. However, some nuts are harder to crack than others and with some interactions we see more tangible results sooner than with others. But with all interactions, whether it’s with the EastEnders team, New Statesman staff or the Mail on Sunday, the first step towards changing the more negative and entrenched aspects of media culture is to establish a channel of communication and we’re hopeful we can build on the MoS staff’s understanding and support for our work over the coming months.

Juno Roche recently wrote for the need for better policy and understanding of gender variance in schools.

Mark Nicol and Ayla

Mark Nicol and Ayla

7 things we learned from our meeting:

  1. They were keen to learn how to improve and change headlines.
  2. Many of them understood young people were growing up with a new understanding of gender identities, gender fluidity and sexuality and that their coverage of trans issues would need to reflect this. Sarah Oliver said her young children understood what being trans means. She said they described it as like “like being in prison inside your own body “.
  3. They are keen to support trans people working in defence in the future if media coverage is inaccurate or wrong.
  4. The Managing Editor, John Wellington, found the interaction very worthwhile and would look at trans stories with more attention in the future. He was happy not to have been lectured and realised that journalists running a story about an individual simply because they are trans is not a story, just as being gay is no longer a story. He said they would try not to cause offence with needless terms like “sex change” (which we guide against).
  5. The Features Editor, Kate Mansey said she felt the bar was set higher to find good stories to work with trans people on.
  6. Sarah Oliver was grateful for the reception and felt more knowledgeable as a result. She said it was a creative and positive approach to the media and felt inspired to continue working together.
  7. The volunteers came away feeling as if things were shifting but some areas still lacked understanding and awareness. We hope the learning from the interaction will trickle down onto the office floor at the Mail on Sunday, and we know this takes time, but we will ensure the connection is maintained.

Lewis speaks to Sarah Oliver

Lewis speaks to Sarah Oliver

6 things they learned from our meeting:

  1. Family support is so important. Each volunteer shared their experiences of coming out to their family, seeking their support or lacking it.
  2. The rate of attempted suicide in the UK amongst trans people is 48% and many struggle with daily prejudices within their own family.
  3. Each person has a personal preference and individual experience. When working on a story, it’s best for the journalist to work closely with the individual to ensure they’re happy with the article and use of photos. Ayla Holdom worked closely with the Defence Editor, Mark Nicol, and Features Writer, Sarah Oliver on a feature about her life and work in the RAF and all felt it was a success and formed friendships as a result.
  4. Trans visibility is growing internationally – most people are aware of Caitlyn Jenner or Kellie Maloney.
  5. Many trans people want to be in the media to talk about what they do and who they are, not just about being trans and their transition story. Many people still think being trans is a lifestyle choice and better media coverage could smash this stereotype. Many trans people are simply keen to educate.
  6. The volunteers talked about the need for events like November 20th’s Trans Day of Remembrance but the focus also needs to be on how being trans can be aspirational, inspirational and positive.

If you are interested in coming on an interaction or hearing more about the project, please get in touch.

Keep following @AllAboutTrans for updates.

On Road, Project Manager for On Road.