Nicky Bandini. (Twitter)
Renowned sports journalist Nicky Bandini came out as transgender this week.
It was everything you’d want, if your job means – as Nicky Bandini’s does – that you need to come out publicly: a national newspaper gave her the space to tell her story, in her own words; it updated her author page to reflect her name change; and prominent journalists and sportspeople offered her their support, admiration and congratulations.
The surprising part? The day before Nicky Bandini came out, it was revealed that two trans employees recently quit the Guardian – the newspaper that she writes for, which handled her coming out so sensitively – citing “institutional transphobia”.
The two said they quit because the Guardian is “an incredibly transphobic organisation” that has caused “harm” to trans people through its reporting on trans issues.
As trans people and their allies are wearily aware, anti-trans sentiment in the press has ramped up in the UK ever since the government opened its public consultation on reforming the Gender Recognition Act last summer.
As a result, a petition demanding the government launch an inquiry into transphobia in the UK media has gained more than 6,000 signatures in under three weeks.
But, while a certain level of transphobia is par for the course from some of the more right-wing corners of the press, the increasingly anti-trans stance taken by the Guardian in the last year or so has been disappointing.
In a now-notorious editorial in October 2018, the Guardian set out its stance on GRA reform, suggesting trans rights and women’s rights were on a collision course.
The backlash was swift – in a retaliatory editorial, US Guardian journalists said they were “dismayed” by the UK Guardian’s stance on trans rights, which in their view “advanced transphobic viewpoints” that harm trans people.
Along with flogging the supposed conflict between trans rights and women’s rights, the Guardian has increasingly touted the idea that a “trans lobby” is harming children – a theme we often see in anti-trans coverage by right-wing newspapers.
This echoes anti-gay sentiment from the past, as trans journalist Shon Faye pointed out recently: it’s “plainly obvious” that “the anti-trans climate being created by the British media is a reprise of 90s homophobia”.
Last week, media coverage of trans people was analysed by a contributor to Manchester’s People’s History Museum.
They found that in the past year, 878 articles were published about trans people in major UK papers.
That’s roughly three articles every day, about a community that makes up less than one percent of the UK population.
Of course, not all of these articles were negative – but a lot of them were. From the familiar – “trans people are a threat to women and children” – to the bizarre – “trans activists sending unmarked packages containing binders to 13-year-olds” – the negative coverage of the trans community feels unrelenting.
It also feels, frankly, like a load of old, middle class, white, straight, cisgender journalists who have maybe a couple of gay friends but aren’t super engaged with the queer community otherwise have decided they don’t like us – because our existence challenges the way they were taught to understand gender, and they can’t admit that they have room for intellectual growth.
Of course, the Guardian is a big paper, and it obviously contains the multitudes necessary to question the need for trans rights and then treat one of its long-time writers thoughtfully and kindly when she comes out.
But, given that Bandini’s coming-out story – which, comprised as it was of a written feature and a video, was not put together quickly – was published the day after BuzzFeed revealed former employees quitting the Guardian over transphobia, the timing seems a little convenient.
It’s possible that the Guardian’s treatment of her coming out as trans marks a turning point, and that those journalists tweeting her their congratulations are being genuinely supportive, and won’t write any more articles calling trans women “biological men” or questioning their right to use the women’s bathroom.
But a cynic could look at the timing of the Guardian prominently publishing – the day after BuzzFeed’s revelations about trans employees quitting the paper – Nicky Bandini’s heartwarming coming-out tale, and raise a tired, transgender eyebrow.