Friday, April 16, 2010

CNN's iReport: "'I am transgender, and I want my voice to be heard'"

On Wednesday, released an "iReport" about transgender Americans.

iReport, for those who don't know, is a public journalism initiative launched by CNN that allows people from around the world to report on happenings in their own cities and towns. In this case, the iReport is a small collection of photo-portraits taken by self-identified trans iReporters. Of all the submissions, CNN then compiled a slideshow of twelve photos and messages they saw to be the most powerful. It was also followed by a short article by ("special to") CNN reporter Jordan Sarver.

At first glance, especially after reading the article, I was very pleased with this piece. Especially in light of the recent CNN "can homosexuality be cured?" piece, I was relieved to see such a positive article with such a strong message. First of all, Sarver used the gender pronouns that the interviewees self-identified with. Plus, the article brought up issues of rights to healthcare, hiring nondiscrimination, and public accommodations issues. Finally, the photos were more or less equality distributed between MTF and FTM transgender people.

But, after looking through the photos again, I began to have a few questions. First of all, who is the "we" who decided which pictures were the most poignant or powerful? CNN reporters, iReporters, straight people, gay people, white people, people of color, trans people, or cisgender people? I was just a little confused about who gets to make value statements about trans people's messages to the world.

Furthermore, there is only one transgender person who identifies as a third gender. If this piece is meant to educate cisgender people about transgender people and transgender issues, then why is Shaun Pursley the only gender neutral person? And, there is really no explanation of what gender neutral means, nonetheless the differences between transgender and transsexual.

Another issue I had with the photo compilation was the lack of representation of trans people of color. The people in the photos are predominantly white, and it seems to perpetuate a lack of acknowledgment of communities of color in LGBTQ issues. Also, in the article itself there is no discussion of the effects of discrimination: depression, homelessness, suicide, poverty, etc. The people are well-educated and successful, which is certainly a positive and well-deserved representation since many trans people are exactly that. But, I do feel that this pristine representation alone ignores the systematic effects of discriminatory practices and policy.

However, the thing I had the greatest issue with (and I could be overanalyzing this completely) was the obstructed view of people's faces in the photos. I understand the symbolism, and I understand that it can be hard to pose in frame with a full view of a piece of paper and someone's face, but there is still something unsettling to me about it. Of the twelve photos, six had obstructed views of the iReporters' faces. I just wondered why this was such a pattern, and what implicit messages (if any) it sends to the readers.

Regardless of the issues I saw with the article, the messages of equality and the necessity for a mutual respect for all people were loud and clear. Hopefully this article will serve to encourage people to question the current state of affairs in America for all people, including a population that is often invisible in the hands of mass media. Let's just hope the discourse can continue.


  1. To address the faces. As one of the people in on article I can tell you the obstruction of my face was due to not being able to get the text visible any other way. I commented a lot and used my full face picture in the avatar. They interviewed me but did not use much of my interview, I think my story was too positive.

    While I understand you concerns about lack of visibility I want to point out the ones they used were dome of the first posted and the ones in which the people opened up with a phone number etc. So it may have been less about picking and choosing and more about willingness to be vetted.

  2. evidentally they liked my they used it as the theme of their article even though they had no idea what it meant.. although i tried to make it as clear as possible.. they still stuck the ftm on the cover and used the 3rd gender title.. i for one believe that full blown transgendered means your transitioning to be either male or female..and that third gender means that you are both.. and you dont want to have to choose a side.. period..

    Shaun Pursley