This week an article was published on the Telegraph with the headline:
Sex-change men ‘will soon be able to have babies’
(Article Author – Henry Bodkin)
I simply could not sit back and let this disgraceful use of harmful and discriminatory language go ahead, so I began pursuing a formal complaint to the Telegraph.
I will take you through the process of where the complaint has reached so far and hope that anyone who is interested in why this language is so harmful will go away with some understanding as to why.
My first step was an email through the contact form on the Telegraph website, only to later discover that they have a more formal complaints procedure, at which point I followed the directions found there. It became apparent that in order to complain to the Telegraph directly that the article would have to be in breach the Independent Press Standards Organisation ‘Editors’ Code’, a a set of guidelines which they are required to adhere to with everything they produce.
The use of language in the headline is wrong and discriminates against the identity trans women, as well as fuelling prejudice and hate, however I needed to ensure that I was clear in how I was to be highlighting that this was in breach of the Editors’ Code. My first formal complaint message was as follows:
I was appalled today to see the headline Sex-change men ‘will soon be able to have babies’
This language is utterly disgraceful, insulting and harmful to transgender women. ‘Sex-change’ is an outdated and often derogatory term which carries a lot of misconception and prejudice. But ‘Sex-change men’ is truly awful.
Nobody wants language to be policed, but I would expect a national organisation such as yourselves to have a better understanding of the harm that the language used here can cause.
Trans women are a minority group who are the victims of hate crimes in the form of both verbal and physical abuse frequently across the country. Using terms like ‘sex change men’ in a national newspaper fuels these hateful comments and makes them think they are justified in their comments.
The term ‘sex-change men’ degrades transgender women and belittles their identity. It is clear that the use of this language was to draw attention to the headline, and I will not stand by while you stand on the struggles and adversity of a minority group in order to sell papers/advertising space.
Being transgender is hard enough without people’s identity, dignity and respect being torn to shreds in popular media.
To be quite honest I expect it from the Daily Mail or the Sun, but not from the Telegraph, I thought you had better standards and more respect than this. I am disappointed.
A good resolution would be amending the article header to read ‘Transgender women will soon be able to have babies’. An apology would also be beneficial, as well as a statement in the newspaper/retraction is this has been printed.
/ (Note I am specifically targeting the headline here as I believe it is this which does the most damage and causes most harm, many including myself also disagree with the content of the article, but the language in the headline is my biggest concern) /
The response I received to this was actually somewhat surprising:
‘Dear Ms Evans,
Thank you for your recent communication to The Telegraph.
Further to your email, using ‘transgender women’ in the headline, as a shorthand summary, is potentially ambiguous in meaning and would risk misleading some readers into believing the article concerns men who used to be women. Given that the opposite is the case, the words of which you complain have been chosen purposefully in an attempt to avoid confusion. Although we understand you disagree, the headline is not in fact inaccurate or in breach of clause 12 of the Editors’ Code.
I trust this is of assistance.
Editorial Compliance Executive’
Not only does the person give a a very poorly thought-out reason, but in the process of doing so also uses the term ‘men who used to be women’ which is incredibly insensitive and widely regarded as an outdated perception of the identity/experience of a transgender person.
Perhaps they thought I would lie down and accept their meagre excuse, clutching my teddy for warmth and comfort, hoping that one day I will be equal to their intellectual prowess. Little did they know, this was far from the truth and I was now riled up and very much ready enter this debate.
Here is my response: avtw-telegraph-complaint-response
(It was a bit big to put in the body of this blog article!)
So now I await their next response.
Needless to say, I am very interested to see what they say next.
Amber out x