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Mermaids Press

We’re proud to have launched our powerful crowdfunder campaign, “If I Had A Voice”, sending the plea to journalists, broadcasters and social media campaigners: “If you haven’t listened to transgender kids, don’t speak about them”.

Corpus Linguistics research carried out exclusively for Mermaids by Professor Paul Baker of Lancaster University found that*: 

 – The British press has increased its coverage of stories about trans people over the last 6 years writing roughly three and a half times as many articles in 2018-19 compared to 2012.

 – Mentions of transgender children are 23 times as common in 2018-19 compared to 2012. 

 – An analysis of 100 random cases in 2018-9 found 56 cases where transgender children were described as existing and/or requiring support. Thirty seven cases were more disapproving, either suggesting that children who identify as trans should not be supported in transitioning or that efforts to support them are unnecessary. A further seven cases appear more neutral.

 – Trans(gender) people generally are increasingly written about in negative ways. They are described as having a propensity to be offended or be involved in conflicts or trouble in 586 cases in 2018-19 (compared to 8 times in 2012). They are described in the context of being demanding or aggressive 334 times in 2018-19 (compared to 5 times in 2012). And they are described in the context of crime (either as criminals or victims of crime) 608 times in 2018-19, as opposed to 3 times in 2012. 

 – There were no references to the trans(gender) lobby in 2012. In contrast, 2018-19 saw 151 mentions of this term, with over 90% of such cases writing about it in a negative way (e.g. as silencing debate, peddling politically-correct fallacies, being deranged or aggressively militant).  

Mermaids CEO, Susie Green said: “Over the last few years, we’ve seen an explosion in media stories relating to children and gender issues and, while some of it has been responsible and understanding, much has been misleading, ill-informed and even, at times, cruel. One consistent issue we’ve found is that politicians, presenters, campaigners and influencers are eager to speak about trans and gender-questioning children without listening to them first. 

“Today, we’re making a fresh plea to everyone involved in the important and complex debate around gender issues, to stop for a moment and think about the impact their articles, broadcasts and social media posts have on real kids living real lives.

“This new research from Professor Paul Baker just goes to show we still have a long way to go before transgender young people get the fair and free voice they deserve in the media and online.”

The film, which was made to accompany the campaign and research features 11-year-old transgender girl from Liverpool, Emily trying to speak against an unrelenting tide of negative press and online speculation. She says: 

“I am very proud of who I am. I have spent my whole life fighting to be heard and understood by family, friends, doctors, school teachers and even strangers. Some listen to me and some don’t. Some take a while to understand and some never have. I know that there is a good chance I will have to fight my entire life to be heard. 

“I feel like people don’t think I need to be heard, because I am a child and they think that I don’t know about myself, but I do. I know me better than anybody. I know that I am talked about by important people and they all have opinions of me and my family even though they don’t know us. I know that they talk about me in a bad way that I am someone to be frightened of or that I will do bad things. But the people that know me and talk to me really like me. 

“I know that I am a good person and I really care about other people. I have set up an LGBT club at my new secondary school because I noticed that there were other kids struggling to be who they are and I wanted them to know people that understand how it feels. I took part in this short film because when I heard about it I felt like someone had read my mind. This short film explains exactly how I feel. Thank you very much for listening. It makes me feel happy.” 

Please take some time to read the research below. This research is ongoing and we look forward to adding more detail as we find it.


Comparison of the coverage of stories about trans people in 2012 and 2018-19

Professor Paul Baker, Lancaster University

The British press has increased its coverage of stories about trans people over the last 6 years writing roughly three and a half times as many articles in 2018-19 compared to 2012. While all newspapers wrote more articles, this is most marked in The Guardian and Mirror.

Mentions of trans(gender) children are 23 times as common in 2018-19 compared to 2012. An analysis of 100 random cases in 2018-9 found 56 cases where transgender children were described as existing and/or requiring support. Thirty seven cases were more disapproving, either suggesting that children who identify as trans should not be supported in transitioning or that efforts to support them (e.g. through pronoun stickers or gender-neutral toilets) are unnecessary. A further seven cases appear more neutral, noting that this is an issue which divides people but not clearly coming down on either side.

Trans(gender) people are increasingly written about in negative ways. They are described as having a propensity to be offended or be involved in conflicts or trouble in 586 cases in 2018-19 (compared to 8 times in 2012). They are described in the context of being demanding or aggressive 334 times in 2018-19 (compared to 5 times in 2012). And they are described in the context of crime (either as criminals or victims of crime) 608 times in 2018-19, as opposed to 3 times in 2012. There were no references to the trans(gender) lobby in 2012. In contrast, 2018-19 saw 151 mentions of this term, with over 90% of such cases writing about it in a negative way (e.g. as silencing debate, peddling politically-correct fallacies, being deranged or aggressively militant). The transgender lobby is described as unimportant, using terms like miniscule and doomed, yet at other times it is described as powerfulhegemonic and influential.

Terminology around trans people has shifted – in 2012 the most common term was transgender, which was three times as common as trans. Now, both terms are around equally common, although only the Guardian and the Observer prefer trans overall. Terms like transsexualtransvestite and sex-change have decreased over time although are still notable in the British press – these four terms occurred collectively 981 times in the last two years (at least once a day). Transsexual people are often described as exotic figures of entertainment, either fictional characters in films or soap operas or as people on reality television. The most common job assigned to them is sex-worker. Tranny is about half as popular in 2018-9 as it was in 2012 and is only now used in stories that describe the label as a form of bullying. However, in 2012 such people were mockingly described as having poor style, as freakish or involved in sex scandals.

However, the word transgender and its plural occurs as a noun 37 times in the press in 2018-19 (e.g. “NHS guidance about transgenders has now been slammed”). Like calling someone “a gay” or “a black”, this practice could be seen as reductive as it labels a person by a single quality, rather than representing them in a way that implies they can have other characteristics. It is most commonly found in the Express and is a practice which has increased from 2012, where only one case was found.

In 2012 the press wrote much more about clothing choices of trans people and their ability to “pass” as a particular gender, as well as operations or implants. More recently, newer concepts have been introduced into stories about trans people – transitioning, gender fluidity, inclusivity, cis people or issues around language use such as gender neutral pronouns or access to gender neutral toilets. References to transphobia are 112 times more common in 2018-19 compared to 2012. Many of these stories appear as a result of the increased coverage in the Guardian, however, the framing of such topics does not always present a sympathetic picture across the whole press. A random sample of 100 references to transphobia and related terms like transphobe found approximately half of them (47%) raised questions about the validity of the concept or whether something actually really was transphobic. The press indicated suspicion of the term by placing it in distancing scare quotes 15% of the time it appeared, as well as using language like “supposed transphobia” or simply reporting that a claim about transphobia was incorrect e.g. “Legitimate objections from women have been howled down as transphobic”.

In conclusion, the UK press wrote over 6,000 articles about trans people in 2018-19. On the surface there appear to have been improvements – some of the more inappropriate and joking uses of language around trans people have reduced since 2012 and there are many more stories around transphobia and inclusivity. However, there are large swathes of the press which write about these topics in order to be critical of trans people and many articles which paint trans people as unreasonable and aggressive. The picture suggests that the conservative press and most of the tabloids have shifted from an openly hostile and ridiculing stance on trans people towards carefully worded but still very negative stance. 

 20122018-2019*
ArticlesWordsArticlesWords
Guardian12198,05416022,786,655
Times148162,1311230924,375
Sun +Sunday Sun13143,761913354,067
Telegraph +Sunday Telegraph12398,572813554,216
Mail + Mail on Sunday7883,154585491,621
Mirror +Sunday Mirror4418,632425190,160
I405217,992
Independent+IOS6245,491
Star9432,235
Express5030,879247117,255
Observer44 2012 articles48,104 2012words179 2018/19articles254,523 2018/19words
Total895661,0136,3995,890,864

*21 October 2017 – 21 October 2019

The I was not in print in 2012, while The Star was not available from Nexis in 2019, while the Independent is no longer a print newspaper. The much larger size of the data in The Guardian is partially due to the way Nexis archives Guardian articles (sometimes by truncating numerous articles into 30,000 word texts). The data is therefore not perfectly comparable, and we also need to take into account the 2nd collection period is twice as long as the first. The larger amount of data in 2018-9 will likely mean that many words will simply be more frequent than they used to be, so it is useful to consider proportional frequencies as well. Additionally, we need to bear in mind the disproportionate influence of The Guardian on the second dataset (47% of all words in 2018-9, compared to 14% in 2012). When considering frequencies overall, the perspective of the Guardian will skew the data much more in 2018-9 – thus we should expect the 2018-19 data to contain more “left-leaning” perspectives on trans people than before.

There were roughly 3 and a half times as many articles about trans people in the 2018-2019 period compared to 2012. While all newspapers are writing about trans people more, The Guardian and Mirror have increased their coverage the most dramatically, The Express and The Observer the least. 

2018 figures

TermExpGuardiMailMirrorObsSunTelTimTotal
trannie0000002002
trannies0202002006
tranny111177043741
trannys0010000001
transgender36318694401383470176910128224129305
transgendered0111514810646
transgendering0002000013
transgenderism62211315123123114
transgenders113132065233
trans148368043865326133867579115618545
transgirls0000000011
transmen0101000002
transperson0102011005
transpeople07000003111
transwoman211124125331
transwomen3202110131638
transphobe040118291338
transphobes02010315921
transphobia51161241812185174337
transphobic812718659193199126502
transphobics1000000001
transsexual163293475234750223
transsexualism0112010218
transsexuality0200000226
transsexuals210122203113182
transexual1211100017
transtrender(s)0003000227
transvestism0300000115
transvestite927617148272534167
transvestites0165243112649
sexchange20020001712
sex change1923991273353841286
sex-change910642414927112
cross-dress*8532213411451031215
cross dress*13572234312491036245
crossdress*131260123533
intersex31452920113144873346
shemale0020000002
she-male0100000001
she male0010000001
gender(-)bend*02010014311
genderqueer015230233634
gender queer0400000239
gender-queer0000000123

In 2012, the most commonly used term, transgender was three times as common as trans. By 2018-19 the two terms are of similar frequency

Trans and transgender are the most common terms used to refer to trans people in 2018-19. The two terms are of similar frequency. The Guardian and Observer show a strong preference for trans (using it twice as much as transgender) in 2018-9. The I uses both terms about equally while the other newspapers all prefer transgender.

In 2018-9 the press used the term sex-change 410 times – about once every other day, with three newspapers accounting for around 2/3 of uses (The Mail 33%, The Times 17% and The Telegraph 11%).

Child sex-change charity handed £500,000 by national lottery; An ‘aggressive’ group that says under-16s should be allowed to alter their bodies medically plans to go nationwide. (Sunday Times December 16th 2018.)

SEX-CHANGE OP FOR THIS SADISTIC KILLER …PAID FOR BY YOU (Mail On Sunday June 10th, 2018)

The word transsexual and its plural were used 317 times – about once every other day, again with the Times (26%), Telegraph (18%) and Mail (18%) accounting for almost 2/3 of cases. Transsexual people are frequently represented as exotic figures of entertainment, either fictional characters in films or soap operas or people in reality tv.

It’s got a real cast of lively characters and bigger than life characters. Jason Fleming plays a transsexual in it, he’s brilliant and flamboyant. (The Times, 19 February 2018)

The most common job assigned to transsexual people is sex-worker/prostitute.

Terror teacher Umar Haque searched online for transsexual prostitutes even though he listed gay clubs among 30 targets.  (The Sun, March 5th 2018)

There were 47 uses of tranny/trannies – about once a fortnight. Almost all of these use the word in the context of writing about trans people being bullied. However, not all cases appear sympathetic. The Sun, (June 6, 2019) reports that “A DOCTOR Who writer has been dumped by BBC Books for posting the word “trannies”.” The headline of the article “Dr Who’s trans fury” implies that the decision was the result of an angry over-reaction by trans people.

Transgender occurs as a noun four times, while transgenders is used as a plural noun in 33 cases.

How about One Guy, A Girl, A Transgender and Two Nonbinary Persons (Sun)

Caitlyn Jenner is dating a transgender […]

“I believe Karen is not a transgender, I believe she is more transvestite than transsexual…” Times

To come back and get a chance to race Victoria, as a transgender, is a thing I never felt would happen.

Trans(gender) people are regularly written about as quick to take offence or as causing offence to others. The words occur 308 times with transgender and 278 times with trans (in a window of 5 words either side). In 2012, these words only occurred 8 times with transgender/trans.

affront/affronted/anger/angry/argue/argument/argued/arguing/backlash/clash/clashed/clashing/complain/complained/complaint/complaints/complaining/criticised/criticise/criticising/critical/dispute/fury/furious/offence/offend/offended/offending/outrage/outraged/row/spat/trouble/upset/upsetting/wrath

Scout leaders have been told to avoid referring to children as boys and girls to ensure transgender members are not offended. (Mail on Sunday)

Stubble trouble: Clinic “sorry” after transgender nurse sent to give a smear test (Daily Mail, January 1, 2018)

CategoryTerm2012 (%)2017-18 (%)
Offense wordstransgender6/345 (1.73%308/9305 (3.31%)
trans2/72 (2.77%)278/8545 (3.25%)
Sex wordstransgender0/345 (0%)28/9305 (0.30%)
trans0/72 (0%)22/8545 (0.25%)
transsexual4/233 (1.71%)7/223 (3.13%)
Crime wordstransgender3/345 (0.86%)415/9305 (4.45%)
trans0/72 (0%)193/8545 (2.25%)
Conflict wordstransgender4/345 (1.15%)195/9305 (2.09%)
trans 1/72 (1.38%)139/8545 (1.62%)

Similarly, trans/transgender people are written about in relation to conflict words 608 times in 2018-19, compared to only 5 times in 2012.

A transgender woman is demanding an apology and £2,500 compensation after claiming she was called “sir” by rail company staff. (Times, March 16, 2019)

EVERY member of a local Labour Party executive committee has quit in support of a colleague who was allegedly bullied by a transgender rights campaigner. (Daily Mail, November 16, 2017)

Journalists from the rightwing press were scrabbling to hit a double-whammy: discrediting Labour while tearing apart an outspoken transgender activist. (I, March 7, 2018)

As the police have become embroiled in yet another social media battle over who said what about whom, I fear even the grammar Nazis are no match for the militant transgender brigade as it rides roughshod over common sense. (Telegraph, March 22, 2019)

Trans/transgender people are linked to crime words 608 times in 2018-19, compared to 3 times in 2012.

It’s crazy to give trans prisoners everything they say they want,’ said chair Janice Williams. Why wouldn’t they lie in the circumstances? (Daily Mail)

Women’s jail holds trans lag born lad (The Sun, September 13, 2019)

Some of the trans brigade advocate the murder of Terfs as the best course. (Telegraph, 12 January 2019)

Offense words

affront/affronted/anger/angry/argue/argument/argued/arguing/backlash/clash/clashed/clashing/complain/complained/complaint/complaints/complaining/criticised/criticise/criticising/critical/dispute/fury/furious/offence/offend/offended/offending/outrage/outraged/row/spat/trouble/upset/upsetting/wrath also uproar

Conflict words

aggressive/aggrieved/demand/demands/demanding/demanded/harassed/harassment/harassing/bullied/bullies/bully/bullying/bullied/confronted/confronts/confront/confronting/lunge/lunged/lunging/militant/outspoken/pressure/pressured/pressuring/threat/threats/threaten/threatened/threatening

Sex words

tryst/trysts/binge/romp/romps/prostitute/prostitutes/prostitution/sex-worker/kinky/kink/fling/porn/pornography

Crime words

killer/prison/prisons/prisoner/prisoners/lag/lags/criminal/criminals/crime/murder/murderer/rapist/paedophile/jail/jails/killing/killed/kills/kill

Comparing 2012 to 2018/19

Term20122018-19X times as frequent in 2018-19
transphobe/phobic/phobia/phobes/phobics4899112
trans120854535
transgender364930512
transgirl/man/men/people/person/woman/women48811
intersex253466.92
gender(-)queer10462.3
cross(-)dress*1304931.8
transgenders14331.17
she(-)male241
gender(-)bend*6110.91
sex(-)change2384100.86
transgendered34460.67
transsexuals67820.61
transvestites40490.61
tranny/trannys/trannie/trannies49500.51
transsexual2462230.45
transvestite2301670.36

Keywords

Words statistically significantly more frequent in 2012 compared to 2018/19

transsexual, he, transvestite, pass, him, man, clothes, hair, transsexuals, shoes, sperm, breasts, bondage, boy, operations, implants, girl, transvestites, dress, dressing, vasectomy, wear, breast, charity, homosexual, prostitutes, transgendered, dressed, wearing, ladyboys, implant, tranny, injections, corset, Beaumont

Words statistically significantly more frequent in 2018/19 compared to 2012

trans, gender, women, LGBT, LGBTQ, identity, queer, hate, discrimination, violence, transition, transphobic, inclusive, recognition, activist, feminists, Mermaids, neutral, pronouns, harassment, attack, abuse, identifying, female, transphobia, toilets, diverse, testosterone, cis, transitioning, biological, backlash, transitioned, pronoun, inclusion, fluidity, bigotry

Category20122018/19
Abuse hate, discrimination, violence, transphobic, harassment, attack, abuse, transphobia, backlash, bigotry
Appearancepass, clothing, hair, shoes, dress, dressing, wear, dressed, wearing, corset 
Identity labelsman, transsexual, transvestite, transsexuals, boy, girl, transvestites, homosexual, prostitutes, transgendered, ladyboys, trannytrans, women, queer, LGBT, LGBTQ, identity, cis, fluidity
Pronounshe, himpronoun, pronouns, neutral
proceduresoperations, implants, vasectomy, implant, injections 
inclusivity inclusive, recognition, inclusion, diverse
transition transition, transitioning, transitioned
biology and bodysperm, breastsbiological, testosterone
groupsBeaumont, charityMermaids, activists, feminist
othersbondagetoilets

Keywords just for The Mail

Key in 2012: transvestite, GID, brigade, transsexual, bathroom, passing

Key in 2018/19: transgender, women, trans, gender, hate, female, identity, activists, men, LGBT, issues, feminists, feminism, crimes, violence, binary, transphobic, neutral, army

References to transphobia and discrimination suffered by trans people, transitioning, inclusivity and gender-neutral pronouns were much more frequent in 2018-9. Topics that now take up less space in the overall debate involve references to transsexuals, transvestites, trannys and ladyboys as well as discussion of sex-changes, implants, the clothing worn by trans people and their ability to “pass” as a particular gender. But frequency of references to references to cross-dressing and people being intersex have increased. 

Focus on transphobia

References to transphobia are 112 times as frequent in 2018-9 as they were in 2012. This shows one of the most salient changes in the way that trans people are written about as newsworthy.

Transphob* total= 902 word in double quotes=107, in single quotes=25 15% of references to the word transphobia and related words like transphobic occur with distancing quotes around them:

A transgender teenager who demanded the removal of a female Labour member from her post as women’s officer over her allegedly “transphobic” views has been elected to the post in her local Labour party. (The Times, November 20, 2017)

IT’S JK TROLLING; Fan backlash at ‘transphobic’ tweet. (The Sun, March 24 2018)

Analysis of 100 random cases of transphobe*

Transphobia quoted as happening/existing, article uses distancing techniquesHe took to Twitter, and there was a “pile on”, with Topshop being attacked online for its supposed bigotry and “transphobia”.36
Transphobia quoted as happening/existing, article doesn’t use distancing techniquesShe adds: “If Theresa May has this ambition to eradicate homophobic and transphobic bullying and to make sure that LGBT issues are taught well then, as a society, we need to make sure that it’s safe for LGBT people to be able to teach in schools.”15
Transphobia described as happening/existing directly by voice of writerNSW Greens apologise for publishing transphobic article;17
Transphobia described as a bad thingLondon Mayor Sadiq Khan added: “Transphobia is never acceptable.”14
Investigation of transphobia claim newsworthy because it is criticised as unreasonableA police commissioner from Humberside has defended his officers for investigating a man who “liked” a transphobic post on Twitter.1
Person quoted as saying that they are not transphobic, despite being called transphobic“It is not a transphobic thing – there needs to be a fair and level playing field.”2
Article questions whether something is transphobic or notIs this a transphobic insult? Or just another difficulty to be finessed?2
How to deal with transphobia?It doesn’t address transphobia in society or how we can move on from discrimination.1
Term appears in organisation nameTheir names were added to a secret blacklist by a group called Labour Against Transphobia, whose members include Wes Streeting MP.1
Author of piece claims/implies something is not transphobic or that to call someone “transphobic” is wrong.Legitimate objections from women have been howled down as transphobic8
Someone quoted as saying something is not transphobic“…the issues they are raising are not motivated by transphobia but by a concern, sincerely felt, that space hard won by women down the generations will be compromised.”3

Approximately half (47%) of references to transphobia in the press raise questions about its validity. This is done in a range of ways – from use of distancing quotes around transphobia, referring to “supposed” or “alleged” transphobia, referring to the way that the accusers behave: e.g. “howled down as transphobia” or simply baldly stating that something is not transphobia.              

A common set of words linked to transphob* are those involved in news stories where someone claims that someone else is transphobic: accused (62), accusations (24), allegations 11), branded (14), call (6), called (14), claim (5), claims (6), deemed (10), demonising (5), labelled (15) = 172 cases. Alternatively, words that relate to countering transphobia are challenge (6), tackle (7) = 13 cases. When the press write about transphobia it tends to be framed as “it is newsworthy that x calls y transphobic” as opposed to “transphobia is a problem that needs to be tackled”.

Children

There are 4599 references to children in the 2018-19 corpus (0.07% of all words) and 530 references in the 2012 corpus (0.08% of all words). While the frequency has increased over time – the word occurred 4 times as much in the latter period, the amount of discussion as a proportion of the overall debate has stayed similar.

The phrase “children as young as [2-12]” occurs 83 times in the corpus. It always signifies moral disapproval of the way that children are being treated.

NURSERY school toddlers are getting lessons from drag queens to teach them about “gender fluidity”. Children as young as two are taught specially adapted songs by performers including Donna La Mode (The Sun, November 13, 2017)

CHILDREN as young as three could be helped to change gender by doctors on the basis of just a Skype phone call under plans being considered by the NHS. (Mail On Sunday, August 25, 2019)

Books given to children as young as four include stories about a boy who wants to wear a dress and one about a red crayon that discovers it is really blue. (Mail on Sunday, April 21, 2019)

Two drag acts hosted readings yesterday designed to show children as young as five that it’s OK to be different’. (Daily Mail, June 1, 2019)

Other footage featured children as young as seven questioning their gender. (The Sun, March 21, 2018)

The broadcaster has been accused of sowing confusion in classroom materials to be shown to children as young as nine (Sunday Times, September 8, 2019)

Children as young as 10 are having their gender switched by deed poll as record numbers of British youngsters identify as transgender. (Sunday Times, January 13, 2019)

CHILDREN as young as 11 are being given hormone treatment to suppress early puberty (The Sun, January 22, 2018)

Children as young as 12 should have the legal right to change their gender on their birth certificates, Scotland’s commissioner for young people has said. (The Times, May 29, 2018)

Children as young as 13 are being railroaded into changing gender by overzealous NHS therapists who parents fear are misdiagnosing their young patients. (Mail on Sunday, October 29, 2017)

There are 236 references to trans(gender) children in the 2018-19 corpus (in comparison this term only occurs 5 times in 2012). The term is most common in the Times, Guardian and Mail which collectively account for 62% of cases.

trans(gender) childrenExpGuardi/IndMailMirrorObsSunTelTimTotal
20120130000015
2018-192492246149142852236

Unlike, transphobia, the term does not occur in scare quotes, suggesting that there is greater acceptance of the term.

An analysis of 100 random cases of trans(gender) children found 56 cases that accepted the existence of trans children and/or advocated that they should receive support. Thirty seven cases were more disapproving, either suggesting that children who identify as trans should not be supported in transitioning or that efforts to support them (e.g. through pronoun stickers or gender-neutral toilets) are unnecessary, even unhelpful. A further seven cases appear more neutral, noting that this is an issue which divides people but not clearly coming down on either side.

Trans childrenExample 
Help, visibility for transgender children is good/neededThe increase in cases has led to calls for a dedicate unit for transgender children32
Help for transgender children reported but article distances from itThe Boy Scouts of America announced that it would allow transgender children who think they are boys to enrol in its boys-only programmes.16
There is a moral panic about trans childrenThey haven’t talked to young people and the parents are sourced from gender-critical websites, who do not believe that trans children exist,” she said.6
Trans children existSome will identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans16
Questions whether there are as many trans children as claimedSuper-liberal Charlize Theron is parroting the acceptable line on trans children16
Worries about operations/drugsAUTHOR’S FEARS OVER OPS FOR TRANSGENDER CHILDREN5
Not everyone agreesShe also cites a discussion between professors Robert Winston and Gary Butler on transgender children as an example of a nuanced discussion.7
Reports transphobic views of someoneShe added that she was not anti-transgender, although she had previously described government plans to extend a new gender identity law to transgender children as “twisted”.2

The following analysis examines two articles (from the Sun and Sunday Times) both of which ostensibly present a “balanced” perspective.

THE SUN, FEBRUARY 20TH 2019

‘£500k OK’ FOR TRANS CHILDREN

A CHARITY that helps transgender children and their families will get a £500,000 lottery grant after a review of the funding.

The cheque to Mermaids had been paused after critics claimed the group encouraged kids to transition against scientific evidence and standards.

Yesterday the National Lottery Community Fund revealed it will pay out after rejecting all the allegations. In a statement it said: “We undertook a review of a number of concerns expressed.

“This review did not find any grounds to withhold funding from Mermaids UK. The grant has therefore been approved.”

The money will be paid over five years. A backlash began last December, with Father Ted creator Graham Linehan among the critics. He called the idea of more clinics “terrifying”.

Tory MP David Davies said: “I am absolutely horrified the Big Lottery Fund are handing out a fortune to this aggressive organisation.”

Yesterday trans campaigner Paris Lees praised the go-ahead: tweeting: “@Mermaids_Gender save lives.” Its chief exec Susie Green said: “We will be able do more to improve outcomes and experiences for transgender and gender-diverse young people.”

This article (The Sun, February 20, 2019) does not directly appear to approve or disapprove of the decision to award half a million pounds of Lottery money to the charity Mermaids. Instead, the article is about a funding decision that is framed as controversial. This is fairly typical of press reporting on trans people and issues, with repeated use of terms like row, spat and trouble. The effect of such reporting is that readers become primed to think of trans people as associated with controversy, as opposed to other ways of framing stories about trans people such as them facing abuse or helping others. The headline puts quotes around the words £500K OK – it is unlikely that this is not a direct quote from the Lottery funders, and there are multiple readings of what these two words could mean. It could be descriptive: “The OK is given to the decision to award £500K” or it could signal that the Sun approves of the decision e.g. “The £500K award is OK”. However, the use of quotes could indicate the Sun wishes to distance itself from the decision, attributing the approval of the money to the National Lottery group.

The article appears balanced in that it quotes from six people or groups, three who are “for” and three who are “against” the decision. The quotes from the critics are couched in strong language: “terrifying”, “horrified”, “aggressive organisation” and the critics represent voices that readers of the Sun are more likely to identify with or agree with – an actor in a popular tv sitcom and a Tory MP. The supporters of the funding include a little-known trans activist (the article does not interview her but reports one of her tweets), the chief exec of the group who received the funding and the funder itself. These voices could be viewed as having “vested interests” (e.g. Susie Green benefits from the money while The Lottery Community Fund desire to be seen as making the right decision). The article foregrounds (placing it in the second sentence) the argument that the group encourage kids to transition which goes against scientific evidence and standards. This is a point which is not elaborated upon but as it stands, it seems hard to counter, offering a strong legitimation of this point of view.

The article implies that there are numerous critics of the decision – with use of unspecified plural terms like critics (used twice) and “all the allegations” which implies there were many allegations against Mermaids, as well as the non-count noun “backlash”. Two of the supportive perspectives appear at the end of the article, implying they are given less precedence than other views.

Talks ‘make children feel surgery is expected’

For Mermaids, residential weekends are at the heart of its work – two days, three or four times a year, where trans children and their parents can get together to socialise, swap tips and feel less alone.

Other attractions, however, included young people showing off their mastectomy scars and a “talk about bottom [genital] surgery”, which some participants thought made children “feel that it is expected of them”.

There were also regular drink problems. Minutes of a Mermaids trustee board meeting in July 2016 say “there had been incidents at every recent residential that were alcohol-related … Some trustees felt strongly that children were being put at risk.”

One Mermaids volunteer, the minutes said, had “woken people at 2.45am returning to the bedroom after clearly being drinking”.

The group’s response for its next weekend, in Watford that autumn, was a total alcohol ban, with everyone handed a card telling them how to behave.

That, too, caused problems. “It felt patronising and insulting … way over the top,” said one parent in the feedback report. As another put it: “Please treat the adults like adults … the blanket ban on alcohol makes Mermaids feel like a puritanical cult.”

There were plenty of positive comments too. “A marvellous, unique opportunity for our children to relax and just be,” said one couple.

Another enthused: “Huge respect to the guys who showed us (upon request) their top surgery [mastectomy] scars … saved a lot of dodgy Google searches.”

However, another person did ask: “When the boys do the talk about bottom surgery, is it possible to have someone who has decided against it, so that the children don’t feel that it is expected of them?” Helen Webberley, a private Welsh GP who gave sex-change hormones to a 12-year-old, was the star of the Watford show. “She is just phenomenal – thank God for people like her on our side,” said one parent.

Webberley has since been suspended on an interim basis by the General Medical Council, pending the outcome of an investigation, and convicted of running an unlicensed gender clinic, facts that did not initially stop Mermaids continuing to recommend her.

This article (The Sunday Times, June 16, 2019) describes residential weekends hosted by Mermaids. The articles quotes from a range of opinions about the events, although the headline foregrounds the most negative one: “Talks ‘make children feel surgery is expected’”. This point occurs three times in the 364-word article, appearing in the headline and twice in the main body of the article.

The article somewhat glibly refers to the “attractions” on offer at the events, which are described as “showing off their mastectomy scars and a “talk about bottom [genital] surgery”. The word “attractions” calls to mind a trip to a theme park or fairground, implicitly positioning the people who possess scars as entertaining exhibits.

The article then presents criticisms both of a member of staff who had been drinking alcohol and of the response by Mermaids to ban alcohol – the term “puritanical cult” is used, describing the group in very negative terms. While the GP Helen Webberly is reported as receiving positive feedback, the article ends by noting she has been suspended and convicted of running an unlicensed gender clinic, and that Mermaids continued to recommend her.

While the article notes two positive comments, overall it signals disapproval of the events, due to the choice of headline and repetitions of the point about surgery being made to feel expected.

The analysis around trans(gender) children indicates something of a dilemma for some elements of the UK press. Children are a vulnerable group and the press do not want to be seen as attacking or doubting them. Yet some journalists do not like the idea of children identifying as trans. Instead, an easier target are parents, adult trans people or groups who seek to support such children. 

The unnamed woman said: “They are being brainwashed into believing they are transgender.” (The Sun, November 19, 2018)

It comes as some parents fear social media stars are brainwashing kids’ with pro-trans propaganda. (The Sun, October 30, 2017)

MPs and parents claimed the question was intrusive and could confuse children, amid growing concerns in some quarters over the inclusion of transgender issues in primary schools. (Telegraph, December 11, 2017)

Last night the document was met with criticism from campaigners who warned the inclusion of trans issues in the curriculum could confuse and upset’ children. (Daily Mail, December 13, 2017)

But, for sanity’s sake, can’t we at least agree to leave impressionable children alone and stop spreading the idea that gender is just another of life’s choices, like whether to start with whitebait or soup? (Daily Mail, February 22, 2019)

Other vulnerable children being referred to Britain’s only NHS gender clinic for under-18s include those with mental health problems, she claimed. (Daily Mail, October 6, 2019)

Mermaids

There are 355 mentions of this group in the corpus with one newspaper, The Times having 56% of all mentions, and the Guardian and Mail accounting for 29% of mentions between them.

 ExpGuardiMailMirrorObsSunTelTimTotal
Mermaids9497541851329171355

The majority of mentions of Mermaids are negative. It is represented as incompetent, unscientific, blackmailing,

Mermaids are well intentioned but in this instance they are doing more damage than good. (Mail, February 24, 2018)

The report said Gids had tried to “placate” lobby groups such as the Mermaids charity, which campaigns for children to be given sexchange treatment. (Sunday Times, February 24, 2019)

Moral highgrounders tend to casually imperil others, not themselves. And what better example of the breed’s dangerous mix of thoughtlessness, arrogance and defiance could there be than Mermaids’ accidental leakage of confidential data? (Telegraph, June 18, 2019)

That Mermaids narrative is everywhere [within the service]” one former clinician claimed. (The Times, April 8, 2019)

The news was quickly met by anger by some campaigners, with The Times’ Janice Turner accusing Mermaids of spreading “cod science”. (The Guardian, February 19, 2019)

Stephanie Davies-Arai, of the parents’ group Transgender Trend, accused Mermaids of blackmailing parents and said: “Funding this agenda will lead to more young people who regret such lifechanging harms to their bodies.” (Sunday Times, December 16,2018)