Last Friday marked two significant events for members of the Australian transgender community: World Mental Health Day and a Brisbane candle-lit vigil in support of slain transgender woman Mayang Praestyo.
Praestyo’s murder at the hands of husband Marcus Volke was horrific. But The Courier Mail’s sensationalist coverage and subsequent tin-ear responses to community outrage highlighted a startling deficiency in the way the Australian media deals with transgender people.
When it comes to mental health and media representation, the transgender community is particularly vulnerable.
Although there’s still limited information in Australia, 21 per cent of trans people in the UK have experienced discrimination directly related to the way they are represented in the media.
A third of the trans population in the US attempt suicide as a result of discrimination and victimisation.
For the great majority of transgender people, even trying to live day-to-day life can be fraught with anxiety and danger.
Even military veterans experience much lower rates of PTSD and SAD of between 8-20 per cent.
There have been some recent improvements in the way Australia deals with the transgender population. Trans people can now get a passport to match their target gender and use that passport as their primary identification document. Anti-discrimination laws have been changed to protect trans people from being fired or from being evicted from a rental property based on their gender presentation.
But despite this, the way the Australian media and popular culture portrays transgender people still has a long way to go.
The Courier Mail’s reporting of Praestyo’s murder, and the subsequent suicide of Volke, focused on the graphic nature of her death, while sexualising her in a series of swim suit poses.
Articles such as ‘Monster Chef and the She Male’ fixated on the details of the grisly murder. Again and again The Courier Mail returned to the details of both her transsexuality and her sex work, implicating Praestyo in her own death while shining a light on the exotic nature of her gender.
The Brisbane newspaper’s coverage met with widespread backlash on social media and resulted in a torrent of complaints to the Australian Press Council.
Due to the mounting community outrage, the focus of the story slowly shifted, eulogising Praestyo as an angel, but at the same time misgendering her as male.
The Daily Mail UK even published a copy of her passport with her former name on it.
Misgendering trans people, publishing details of their past, unnecessarily focusing on gender reassignment surgery, pigeonholing transgender women as prostitutes and printing voyeuristic pictures is invasive and unnecessary.
These kinds of stereotypes are extremely harmful.
Even the portrayal of Volke as a psychopathic ‘tranny-chaser’ stigmatises men brave enough to enter a relationship with a transgender woman and reinforces the awful, sometimes deadly, stereotypes of trans women as sexual deceivers.