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Is It Transphobia Or Just Bad Journalism At Seventeen Magazine?

I just knew I was not going to like the take on trans people when I had an article entitled My Boyfriend Turned Out To Be A Girl. Seventeen Magazine November 2009 CoverThe piece was forwarded to me by teen lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community activist Ariel Bustamante.

In quick summary, in the Seventeen magazine issue for November, a young adult named Sheri, in an “as told to Jessica Press” article, talks about dating someone who the article describes as a liar — a female-to-male young trans man who the article proclaimed as really being a “she.” The bolded and enlarged segment of the article text, put into a text box in the center of the piece, stated “It felt like my whole first love was a lie.”

The thrust of the article, from the article headline to the bolded and highlighted text, seemed to be that female-to-male transsexuals are really females who are deceiving others. This isn’t supported by “Sheri”/Jessica Press’s use of proper pronouns throughout the piece, but it is accomplished in the headline chosen for the piece, and the highlighted and bolded call-out boxes for the piece.

The gist of the article, from the article headline to the bolded and highlighted text, seemed to be that female-to-male transsexuals are really females who are deceiving others.

Facebook webpage group organizer Ariel Bustamante said this about the article:

Rather than use this opportunity to educate readers about transgender issues, it never once even uses any terminology (well, unless you consider the slur “he-she”) but instead furthers the common transphobic assumption that someone who’s gender does not match their sex assigned at birth Seventeen Magazine: My Boyfriend Turned Out To Be A Girl (Article Cover)is a deceptive liar and even compares them (at the bottom) to perverts, drug addicts, and older dad’s trying to get someone young w/o disclosing their parental/age status.

Please read the article (follow the 1st link) done in poor taste with a terrible accusatory tone from the get-go and write a letter to the editor ( expressing your opinion about the article, the implications it has, and ask them to put an apology in one of their next 2 issues.

If you do had sent such an e-letter to Seventeen, Ariel sent me the boiler plate response that the letter writers have received back from them to this point:

Hey [Insert Name Here]!

Thank you so much for writing us! We apologize if the article “My Boyfriend Turned Out to Be a Girl” upset or troubled you in any way. Please know that we understand LGBT issues are very sensitive and certainly did not intend to spread misinformation or prejudice. We will definitely take your comments into account and be more careful in the future.

Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

Here’s some recommendations from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) states in their Media Guide‘s Transgender Glossary:

[Below the fold: What GLAAD and the Associated Press recommend about reporting on trans people, and the Harsh Realities that many trans youth experience that Seventeen didn’t note.]

We also encourage you to ask transgender people which pronoun they would like you to use. Seventeen Magazine: My Boyfriend Turned Out To Be A GirlA person who identifies as a certain gender, whether or not they have taken hormones or had surgery, should be referred to using the pronouns appropriate for that gender.

If it is not possible to ask the person which pronoun he or she prefers, use the pronoun that is consistent with the person’s appearance and gender expression. For example, if the person wears a dress and uses the name “Susan,” feminine pronouns are appropriate.

The article text doesn’t actually say “he actually was a she” — but the cover page for the article actually does.

The Associated Press Styleguide, billed as “the journalist’s bible,” says this about how to properly refer to the gender of a trans person:

Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth.

If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.

And too, in the same vain of the editorial staff’s headlining and graphics for the article misgendered the trans youth in question, the editorial staff choice to highlight the word “lie” in the bolded, highlighted text of the piece. Basically, the editorial staff of Seventeen intentionally misgendered a trans young man, and then intentionally portrayed him as a liar; as a deceiver. This is what the GLAAD Media Guide’s Transgender Glossary states about “deceiver” language:


Defamatory: “deceptive,” “fooling,” “pretending,” “posing,” or “masquerading”

Gender identity is an integral part of a person’s identity. Please do not characterize transgender people as “deceptive,” as “fooling” other people, or as “pretending” to be, “posing” or “masquerading” as a man or a woman. Such descriptions are extremely insulting.

Clearly, the editorial staff at Seventeen were more interested in sensationalizing the story in their pages than sticking to journalism norms.

What I’m not saying is that the trans youth in this story — “Derek” — was anything but a jerk. If it were me in the same circumstances, I would have at least revealed my trans status to the young woman I was dating as soon as the young woman wanted to become intimate. That “Derek,” if he behaved in the way that the article portrayed him as behaving in the story, would actually be that kind of a jerk isn’t the point here.

The point is that the Seventeen editor for this story chose to portray female-to-male trans youth as really girls — and by extension male-to-female trans youth are really boys. In the way the story was presented, it portrayed all trans people as being deceptive liars — and “lie” is their word, not mine. Trans people, and many others in and out of LGBT community, know that genitalia and the gender markers on identification documents don’t always tell the full gender story of an individual.

What the sensationalizing of this Seventeen story does is a recipe for teaching intolerance to trans youth based on gender identity and expression, and this recipe — when I think about Brandon Teena and Angie Zapata — is also a recipe for fueling violence against trans people.

Words matter.

Harsh Realities: The Experiences Of Transgender Youth In Our Nation's Public SchoolsSeventeen Magazine had — and still has — an opportunity to educate its readership on trans youth. With Ariel Bustamante, I’m calling on Seventeen to apologize for the sensationalizing of this story. I’d go further — Seventeen owes us a story about trans youth that doesn’t sensationalize them as deceivers and liars, but owes their readers about what trans youth go through when they go to schools.

Seventeen can begin their education on trans youth and issues by reading the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN’s) Harsh Realities: The Experiences Of Transgender Youth In Our Nation’s Public Schools. On the experience of trans youth in schools:

• Two-thirds of transgender students felt unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation (69%) and how they expressed their gender (65%).

• Almost all transgender students had been verbally harassed (e.g., called names or threatened) in the past year at school because of their sexual orientation (89%) and gender expression (87%).

• More than half of all transgender students had been physically harassed (e.g., pushed or shoved) in school in the past year because of their sexual orientation (55%) and gender expression (53%).

• More than a quarter of transgender students had been physically assaulted (e.g., punched, kicked or injured with a weapon) in school in the past year because of their sexual orientation (28%) and gender expression (26%).

• Most transgender students (54%) who were victimized in school did not report the events to school authorities. Among those who did report incidents to school personnel, few students (33%) believed that staff addressed the situation effectively.

Seventeen‘s editor(s), in my opinion, showed transphobia in how they presented this story. They can, and should, do better into the future by trans youth than they did in the November issue.



* Harsh Realities For Transgender Students

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