The ability of what someone writes to shape an outcome weighs heavily in my mind, as I heard yesterday about the sudden death of Lucy Meadows, a trans woman who was mocked in the Daily Mail by Richard Littlejohn really rather recently.
In spite of being a teacher who reportedly was supported by her head, well liked by students and respected by the entire school community, Littlejohn went on a rampage about 'young minds' and all that sort of nonsense. In highly inflammatory language he invoked the sort of fear that people once also used to hold about homosexuals, about someone who was transitioning. In fact the exact sort of language used against every minority at some point: the what about our (white, 'normal') children? defence.
And now, on news of her death, the original piece has been hidden off the website - but lives on in web archives. Meanwhile loads of papers are reporting the death but misgendering Miss Meadows by calling her a man. So some shame... but no apologies. Many are angry; they should be.
Being monstered by the press is not easy to put up with - something I know firsthand. Everyone and their dog thinks because they saw some unflattering photo of you a tabloid swiped off of Facebook, that they are bigger experts on your own life and your well-being (and the well-being of those around you) than you are. Unlike Miss Meadows, however, I had years of knowing the moment of truth would eventually come and that it would not be pretty; I expected the absolute worst. A certain natural pessimism, perhaps, that protected me from the effects of being persistently bullied by people with far bigger platforms than the average troll.
Emails revealed by Jane Fae detail the extent of intrusion in Lucy Meadows's life after her transition hit the press: journos hassling her outside of work and home, ludicrous amounts of money being offered to people who knew her for photos, and more. This is NOT an extraordinary example of how they pursue people; this is par for the course. My granny was lied to by the Mail, told I had been in a car accident as was in hospital, in order to get personal details. Friends and family had their homes entered under false pretences; personal items were stolen. This is usual. This is how it goes.
Acording to Fae,
Lucy writes of how parents themselves complained that their attempts to provide positive comments about her were rebuffed ... The press gang, it seems, were only interested in one story: the outrage, the view from the bigots. The stench of money hangs around – it's widely believed among those connected with the case that money was being offered for these stories.Ha. Yes. This. Anyone who doesn't have a bad word to say about you? Those are the quotes and interviews that somehow mysteriously don't make it into the final story. Ever wonder why you read all about my drug-addicted dad but fuck all about my well-adjusted mum? It sure wasn't because they didn't talk to her. It was because she didn't have any dirt worth digging. Doesn't fit the monstering, you see. Doesn't allow bigots and haters to point and laugh and ridicule and feel superior to someone.
Lucy will no doubt have received not only unwanted press intrusion but foul letters from the public as well, seeing as the papers were kind enough to lovingly detail exactly where hateful jerks could find her.
This kind of treatment is not, I suspect, something that will change after Leveson. But that's another rant.
Three months after a monstering in the media is about the time you realise it has changed your life, and certain relationships with people, for good. I was fortunate in that I wasn't also going through a huge and important change of identity to the people who knew me, so I can only imagine what level of pressure that adds.
Early reports suggested Meadows may have succumbed to suicide; that will be the coroner's call. I deeply, desperately hope for the people who loved her that this is not the case. But I also know the realities and statistics of what trans women and men experience - a 42% attempted suicide rate, for starters - not to mention the personal danger they face in real life, and the harsh mental toll exacted by vast proportions of the population wishing them dead.
Coming less than 24 hours after the Press Complaints Commission's refusal to follow up on the hundreds of complaints about Julie Burchill's anti-trans tirade, it has not been a day when the British media covered itself in glory on the issue of how trans men and women are portrayed.
Not everyone has the strong support system to endure such hurtful abuse. But more to the point, we shouldn't need to have rhino-thick skins just to get on with private lives. Lucy Meadows was a private person, not a 'sleb. This was not a story. And yet she got the full-on treatment for... what, exactly? So some small minded folk could feel better about themselves? Pathetic.
Many journalists want the press to do better than this, but there seems to be no shortage of "name" columnists running a different show entirely. Not to mention the money-hungry story-sellers and editors and subs who let this sort of language into print. No one should ever have to endure the level of bullying Miss Meadows did. I hope for a day when endings like hers are not written by others.