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Trans Journalists: It's 'A Privilege' To Tell The Stories Of The Trans Community

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

News organizations are doing stories every day about state ballot measures targeting transgender young people. There are dozens of such bills around the U.S. Some limit participation in sports teams. Others restrict medical treatment. In most cases, the reporters and editors telling these stories don't have firsthand experience living as a trans person. Well, I spoke today with three journalists who do. And while they've all covered a variety of beats in their careers, they agree that right now, it's important for trans journalists to be on the front lines of covering this story. Here's Imara Jones, the creator of TransLash Media.

IMARA JONES: It's really important for us to be telling our own stories.

SHAPIRO: Kate Sosin is a reporter at The 19th.

KATE SOSIN: The longer that I worked as an out trans person reporting on trans news, the more that I learned that it was really powerful to be a trans person telling trans stories.

SHAPIRO: And Orion Rummler is a reporter at Axios.

ORION RUMMLER: I think bringing in more trans people into the newsroom to cover LGBTQ issues is just one of the best things you can do.

SHAPIRO: Kate told a story to illustrate why.

SOSIN: So, for example, last January, I went to South Dakota to cover a trans health care ban that was pending in the state legislature. And I interviewed trans kids, and they had been subjected to so much media attention. And when you show up as a national reporter and you're interviewing those kids, it's such a different experience if you say, hey, I am trans. Like, I have medically transitioned, and I know what it means to need this care, for your life to depend on it. And one, I'm not going to misgender you in this article or deadname you or ask you invasive medical questions. But also, I understand that your life is on the line with this bill.

SHAPIRO: Have any of you ever had colleagues say or imply that because you have a personal stake in some of these issues that you shouldn't be covering it?

RUMMLER: This is Orion. And I have not felt that, although I have gotten a few readers who seem to believe that I do have a certain bias reporting about trans issues from being trans. And to them, I would say the lived experience of being a trans person and reporting on this, as Kate just spoke to, is that you understand the barriers that trans people are facing. You understand what they're feeling. And I'd also say I'm probably more familiar with the anti-trans point of view than your average cisgender reporter because I've had those conversations with people who don't believe my way of living is appropriate. I understand what they're feeling because they've told me. So I think this - you know, the first-hand experience that we have is a two-way street. And to me, that's my primary response to the question of like, well, don't you have a dog in this fight?

SHAPIRO: I'm thinking even on something as simple as language, I have seen the news media evolve to use terms like gender-affirming care. And that was not an automatic switch that flipped. And I think, like, the National Lesbian Gay Journalists Association was telling news organizations to do that before they were ready to do it. And so have you had to fight those fights within your own organizations in your career?

JONES: Yes. This is Imara. I mean, I think for me, one of the reasons why I created TransLash was because I got tired of trying to convince people that our issues were important and that our perspectives and voices are important, particularly for trans people of color. And I think that evolution that you're speaking about is there, but it's certainly not all the way there, and it is far from being universal. And I think that, you know, it really is just critical that we have a mixture of outlets that tell our own stories from our own perspectives and also mainstream resources because those are places that reach a totally different audience that are also key.

SHAPIRO: It feels in a way like there's a national debate right now over your right to exist. And so I wonder, just as a person covering those stories every day, how it feels to be reporting this out as something that your fellow citizens disagree about.

RUMMLER: So this is Orion. To me, it feels like a privilege to be writing about these stories because I think there's a stronger emotional connection, a stronger understanding of what the stakes are for people in these states. I mean, in Arkansas, I've connected with a family. They're raising funds already to move to New Mexico. They've lived in the state for 16 years, and they say they need to go somewhere else that supports their transgender son who's transitioning. And, you know, talking about family - like, I am a transgender man. I've transitioned, and I can connect with them on that level.

SOSIN: So this is Kate. I - the tough part for me is that I'm talking to transgender children who say I don't want to be trans anymore, or I wish that I wasn't who I am, or I don't see a future for myself. That to me is, like, the trauma of these bills. And I cover incarceration in prison abuse, health care, hate crimes, all kinds of really difficult stories - homicides - and those add to burnout, but I think that that burnout is not because I experienced those things myself. There's, like, a second-hand trauma that all journalists feel. There's an added layer sometimes when you recognize that these things are happening because of gender - right? - because these folks are in some way related to your community.

SHAPIRO: You know, this is coming after a summer of racial justice protests where so much of the most powerful reporting we saw came from BIPOC journalists who brought their own experiences to their reporting. And so to conclude, could I ask you to just talk about intersectionality and allyship and the way that you see personal history and lived experience in forming journalism in this moment beyond just the debates over trans rights?

JONES: Yeah. This is Imara. I think that that's a really important point. I think the thing that makes me really effective as a trans journalist is that I know my beat really well. I think that for other communities, quite frankly - like, no one ever says that you're white, so you can't write about white people. And so we need to extend that same consciousness and that same grace to all communities because at the end of the day, as I said before, I'm still a journalist, and we have to trust that everyone in a newsroom is a journalist and knows how to do their job.

SHAPIRO: But I can hear listeners at home screaming, what about objectivity? What about the view from nowhere? (Laughter).

JONES: Well - right. What about objectivity? There is no journalist that is completely objective, and the idea of that is just false. And I think we need to admit that. What we ask for is the ability to be fair. And what we ask for - ultimately, I think our job is to present the truth that we've been able to find using the tools of discernment, reason, skepticism, argument and a logical framework. That's what we're asking journalists to do. That's the job, is to be actually fair, not to be objective because no one is completely objective. It's false.

SHAPIRO: Imara Jones is the creator of TransLash Media. Kate Sosin is a reporter at The 19th, and Orion Rummler is a reporter at Axios.

Thank you all for sharing your insights with us today.

SOSIN: Thank you.

RUMMLER: Thank you so much, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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