Transgendering the media: Trans Media Watch and the struggle over representations of transgender in the British media
Silva de Assis, C.
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Researchers and scholars have been discussing media representations of gender and their impact on audiences over the last fifty years in the Western context. However, most studies on this subject have taken “gender” and “woman” as interchangeable terms, overlooking how various gender identities are depicted in the media. Most work on media representations of transgender is carried out by activist groups of trans persons and allies, and one such group is Trans Media Watch (TMW), a charity founded in 2009 that aims to improve media coverage of trans issues in Britain. It was the awareness of the devastating effects of media representations of transgender that ridicule and dehumanize trans persons that brought the group together to tackle the struggle over representations of transgender in the media. This study explores how TMW is challenging the media, discussing what the group understands as “problem coverage” and the alternatives they propose, as well as their methods and strategies to get their message across to media professionals of how they would like trans persons to be represented. The study also discusses the group’s position in the British context of media and trans activism, further problematizing the notion of representation by looking at how they negotiate their position as liaisons between trans persons and media professionals and institutions. This study is based on a series of nine in-depth interviews with three members of TMW’s core team. This thesis positions Trans Media Watch as an instance of a social movement – the trans movement – that emerged to tackle a gap both in theory and in practice. The struggle of trans persons over representation and self-definition takes place in the realms of theory and academia as well as in political activism, connecting the symbolic and the material in the struggle for full citizenship and social acceptance.