22/11/2017 12:26 GMT | Updated 22/11/2017 12:26 GMT

When Will The Sunday Times Stop Its Stream Of Anti-Trans Invective?


The Sunday edition of the Thunderer used to be an authoritative news source. Not any more.

Monday was the International Trans Day of Remembrance, where the trans community and its supporters remember those who have been murdered this year. The list of those murdered is long and there are events held globally to commemorate and show ongoing support. Trans issues are more prominent than ever, which is to be welcomed, and yet many newspapers clearly want to sensationalise the issues around trans equality, or use spokespeople with biased viewpoints, rather than rational counterpoints.

In framing the discussion of trans equality, the US-based Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination explains as follows:

“Journalism is key to increasing public awareness and understanding of transgender people and issues. Opposing viewpoints on complex issues are, of course, vital to good journalism. However, there is a difference between opposing viewpoints and defamatory rhetoric that exists solely to fuel harassment and discrimination. If opposing viewpoints are necessary for a particular news story on Transgender Day of Remembrance, please contact organisations or individuals who have a clear stake in the issue from both sides and pair them appropriately.”

This seems a sensible and rational approach, but one which was ignored by the latest edition of the Sunday Times. There are four trans pieces in this edition. The first article links trans prisoners and sex offenders and starts with an individual profile of a rapist before discussing the concerns of trans lobbyists as a secondary issue to the imaginary concern that male sex offenders will change gender to have access to more women.

So far so bad. The second and third articles then pander further to this artificially-amplified feeling of unease – a question about new guidelines gets distorted into a headline that teenagers who are transgender are simply either anxious or autistic, says an anonymous therapist, and then a piece that discusses a ‘real’ woman being bullied by trans (ie not real) women for simply speaking her mind (although her use of the phrase ‘dangers of transgenderism’ implies that she is not as innocent or neutral as she makes out).

As a glutton for punishment, I decided to see if the Sunday Times columnist Rod Liddle (only hired to make their Jeremy Clarkson articles seem positively liberal) had a view. He did. It was, as ever, nothing original but it topped off the Sunday Times’ theme nicely. In short, will nobody think of the children? He argues for simply protecting innocent little children from surgery when they are under 16. Let’s be clear - combatting transphobia is not a Trojan horse for operating on children, but people will think it is if views like this go unchallenged.

If I am being charitable, then more education is needed. The process of transitioning involves psychiatric assessment to understand the patient. Allowing someone to express uncertainty about their gender does not mean that they are immediately on a conveyor belt for surgery. Shutting down a child’s ability to discuss gender may however mean that those will real questions will suffer in silence, and this is part of the cause behind the high levels of mental health issues and self-harm within the trans community.

If I am being less charitable, then the Sunday Times is using trans issues as a glorified form of clickbait, taking legitimate concerns about child welfare – which we all share – but stoking that into a bonfire of misinformation and prejudice. The Sunday Times used to be a paper which, while I didn’t agree with everything it said, I could rely on to challenge me on my own assumptions with view from outside my bubble. Increasingly though, reading the Sunday Times feels like reading the Sunday Sun but with slightly longer words. It won’t be a shame to leave the likes of Rod Liddle behind, but it is a shame that a once great paper has been reduced to the man on the corner, shouting about the perils of change to anyone who will listen.