The representation of transgender people in Dutch media

Factsheet, 6 April 2017
Fragment Love me gender. Transgenders op zoek naar liefde (EO, 2016)

The visibility of transgender people in Dutch media has increased in a relatively short period of time. This visibility offers opportunities such as an increase in awareness and acceptance in society. However, there is an equal risk of an increase in negative stereotyping. Atria researched the representation of transgender people in Dutch media of the past 25 years, and investigated how the transgender identity became a recognisable, public figure. General trends in print media, a selection of three magazines, and two television programmes, were analysed.

Transsexual to Transgender

There was a noticeable increase in the amount of articles on transgender people in print media. A noteworthy development portrayed the change in the used terminology. From 2012 onwards the word ‘transgender’ was used more often in comparison to ‘transsexual.’

Trans-women most visible

The content analysis of three different magazines proved how transwomen dominated the published articles.

Transgender scripts

Six ‘transgender scripts’ have been identified based on the visible trends in media reporting. Different returning storylines are used to describe transgender people. Every script highlights one specific aspect.

  • Successful trans
    After coming-out, transgender people can only achieve to be fully themselves by going through a full transition. Their surroundings fully understand and support the entire process.
  • Fraud
    Within this script transgender people deceive the world: they are ‘actually’ male or female. An example of the fraud script is the transgender athlete who gets exposed. Indirectly their deception is further put on display by the use of the wrong pronouns: ‘she’ for a trans-man or ‘he’ for a trans-woman.
  • Pioneer
    Transgender people are introduced as avant-garde characters guiding the way to a society that does not advocate static gender roles.
  • Marginalised figure
    Transgender people are portrayed as figures from the ‘underworld.’ For instance, they are deployed to illustrate a story about the dark side of a city’s nightlife, where they are associated with prostitution and other forms of criminality.
  • Victim
    Transgender people are represented as victims of exclusion, discrimination, bullying, violence, and even murder.
  • Pawn
    Transgender people are often brought into play to showcase the alleged progressive emancipation and tolerance of the Netherlands. The script’s goal is to emphasize the difference between the Netherlands and the ‘other’ (Eastern-Europe, Muslim countries, and other marginalised ethnic minorities).

Conclusion

Media reports on transgender people and transgender subjects are versatile and definitely not restricted to stereotypes. Many articles and two recent television programmes have a clear emancipatory approach. Certain tendencies in the reports show how the questioning of gender scripts is paired with a new normativity. Represented transgender people who are given a voice are usually young, white, heterosexual, and without physical disability. On television, the ‘successful trans’-script is crucial for their representation. Within this script acceptance and understanding is generated for people who are going into transition, but not necessarily for those who did not commit to that decision. ‘Strange’ or ‘different’ aspects of transgender people are emphasised, without questioning the identity of cisgenders in the same manner.

Recommendations

Atria recommends:

  • Journalists and programme creators to enter discussion with diversity experts from academia, social care and civil societal organizations. This can lead to a better understanding of transgender people and to a more accurate representation of transgender identity in relation to characteristics such as age, ethnicity, sexuality, and nationality.
  • Journalists and programme creators should delve into their assumptions of gender and how this influences their representation of transgender identities in media.

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