British media has Brianna Ghey’s blood on its hands- and its kill count doesn’t end there.
The general public are being groomed to view all trans people as a threat to their safety, rather than seeing them for who they really are: children, friends, 16-year-olds with their whole lives ahead of them.
Earlier this year, the murder of Brianna Ghey made headlines across the country. A 16-year-old trans girl, Brianna was killed in what officials described as an “extremely brutal and punishing” manner, stabbed multiple times by two 15-year-olds in Culcheth Linear Park, Cheshire. Although police have confirmed the attack was a “targeted”, they initially stated that they did not believe it came as a result of her gender identity, although she was regularly subjected to transphobic, often violent bullying in her daily life.
The news of her death was met with an outpour of sadness from the trans community, many of whom expressed sadness that a “beautiful, one of a kind teenager” had had her life cut so short, and in such an awful manner. Many were also disgusted by the media coverage which followed, with one of Brianna’s close friends saying the reportage of the incident had made her feel sick. The majority of British publications initially refused to acknowledge that Brianna was trans, and those which did referred to her using her birth name and masculine pronouns- with The Telegraph even going as far contacting her optician to discover and publish her former name. In life, and in death, Brianna has faced disrespect as a result of her identity.
Harmful coverage of trans people not only preceded and followed her death, it was also a direct cause. Brianna was far from the first, and unfortunately probably won’t be the last, to fall victim to the British media’s campaign against its trans citizens. Although those who do not identify with their assigned gender at birth are disproportionately affected by issues such as violent crime, mental health struggles, and homelessness they are demonised and delegitimised in UK media repeatedly, if not obsessively. Automated tracking from the group Dysphorum found that British legacy media published 7,525 articles about trans people in 2022, with 1,202 also being released in the weeks leading up to Brianna’s murder. The overwhelming majority of these articles were framed negatively against trans people, and trans women in particular. This level of coverage seems excessive for any issue, but it becomes even more concerning when considering only 0.5% of the British population currently identify as trans or gender non-conforming.
In the two primary narratives reinforced by legacy media in the UK, trans women are either positioned as scary antagonists, opposing innocent female victims, or manipulators, silencing gender-critical advocates of logic and truth.
The former portrayal is largely pushed by framing trans women as perpetrators of violent, often sexual, crime. To begin, there is a disproportionate focus on trans criminals and inmates in British news, although only 0.28% of prisoners in England and Wales were trans as of June 2022. When searching right-wing news outlets like The Telegraph, inflammatory headlines such as ‘Trans woman jailed for sex with underage girl raped friend weeks after prison release’ and ‘Violent trans criminals are women, Nicola Sturgeon says’ dominate reportage, although only six trans women were housed in female prisons last year.
When not depicted as aggressors, trans women are positioned as manipulators- opponents to not only logic, but to dignified cis women like author J.K. Rowling and former philosophy professor Kathleen Stock, the pioneers of gender-critical feminism. In this narrative, emphasis is placed on a trans person’s former identity, or their genitals. Arguments are framed as civil and impersonal, and they’re certainly not transphobic. Rather, they’re common sense. Those brave enough to counter the so-called trans trend often speak out about being ‘cancelled’- ironically, in popular news outlets like the BBC and The New York Times, whilst promoting their new book releases. A recent, striking example of this portrayal comes from the ever-reliable Daily Mail, which shared an article from a Conservative councillor who claimed to have had a traumatising encounter with a trans woman in a public toilet. Cllr Ruby Sampson wrote that she felt she had been left with no choice but to write transphobic drivel for a tabloid, after the other occupant allegedly said she was going to “wipe [her] hands on [her] penis”. Without unpacking the plausibility of this situation having actually occurred (the woman in question, Sophie, shared on Twitter that she’d actually said she was going to wipe her hands on her jeans, which makes much more sense) the piece contains the word ‘penis’ four times, and refers to several of Sophie’s characteristics in an attempt to draw attention to her biology- her height, her “big” shoulders, her “strikingly deep voice”. Of course, Sampson made a point of explaining how not-transphobic she is, stating that she supports trans people’s “rights to live an authentic lifestyle”, despite referring to trans women as “men who self-identify as women” and “threatening trans [women] with [penises]” a mere two paragraphs earlier. Rowling has adopted this same strategy in the past, similarly claiming that she feels “nothing but empathy and solidarity with trans women who’ve been abused by men”, despite routinely and aggressively describing trans women as male abusers.
It would be foolish to pretend negative coverage of trans individuals, particularly trans women, doesn’t capitalise upon the legitimate worries of some cis women. ActionAid estimates that in 2021, one third of women over the age of 16 are subjected to at least one form of harassment in Great Britain, and an average of 85,000 women experience sexual violence or attempted violence every year in England and Wales. These are, of course, very serious and pressing issues. However, they are wrongly and deliberately attributed to trans women by the media in an attempt to vilify them. Attacking this group doesn’t address the root cause of violence against women and girls- misogyny- rather, it reinforces it via reducing womanhood to no more than female biology. Trans women are also, as previously mentioned, at a heightened risk of these issues, especially when considering factors such as skin colour and economic class. Other, lesser concerns are also pushed and exaggerated despite having no tangible impact on our lives- realistically, how many of us are actually affected when a trans person competes in the Olympics?
Overall, these narratives, which portray trans women as criminals and tricksters, lead directly to tragedies like Brianna’s murder. The general public are being groomed to view all trans people as a threat to their safety, rather than seeing them for who they really are: children, friends, 16-year-olds with their whole lives ahead of them. The media’s obsession with the so-called “transgender debate”- which, realistically, is no more than an attack on the rights of a minority group already disproportionately affected by practically all societal issues- has claimed too many lives already. If more responsibility is not taken urgently in the reportage of trans people, it will continue to claim more.