Misgendering is editorial policy at the Independent: Lola Phoenix shares their story

Content warning: this post discusses dysphoria, trans healthcare and misgendering

Lola Phoenix is an agender person who needs surgery to correct dysphoria. Because they are agender–they do not identify as any gender– and they have a feminine name, they have been denied treatment from the NHS​. So, like many other trans and non binary people who need surgery, Lola has turned to crowdfunding. Visit Lola’s crowdfunding page, and read why they need help in their own words.

To gain prominence for the crowdfunder, Lola decided to engage with the mainstream media, opting to work with who they thought was a sympathetic journalist. “Initially, I saw a story about GIC wait times in the Independent written by Paul Gallagher and I tweeted him and asked if he was interested in writing about my GIC experience. In my first email, I made it clear that I wanted my pronoun to be respected and I wanted to basically publicise my surgery fundraiser. I went through the whole rigamarole, ​spoke to him on the phone, filled out the questions he sent me, and answered his follow up questions. I even got photographed by one of their photographers and everything! I asked to see the article before it went live and in the one he provided for me, I corrected my pronouns.”

So far, so good. Surely the Independent covered Lola’s story in a way which was acceptable to everyone? Well, no. “The article that went up is not the same and when I asked him to change it, he gave me the spiel about the editorial decision.” Changes to the article included deletion of paragraphs on the issues non binary people face, such as immigration issues, and honorifics. Furthermore, Lola’s pronouns were not changed.

The journalist said “The was decision taken to use ‘she’ etc in the opening few paragraphs to describe you as a child as it was felt this provided clarity for readers coming to the story fresh and make your gender at birth clear. Then when we mention the fact you considered yourself agenda [sic] c. post 16 we stopped using those pronouns.”

Whoever made the editorial decision made a pretty nonsensical one. Having read the article (freezepage here, content warning for misgendering), it is more confusing, using “she” pronouns for Lola in the first six paragraphs–it certainly seems to have confused readers in the comments, who are using the incorrect pronouns. At no point does the article mention Lola’s correct pronouns, and it seems to go out of its way at avoiding using any pronouns whatsoever. Also, it’s a fib that the “she” pronouns–which shouldn’t have been there in the first place–were dropped after it was made clear that Lola is agender. Just one sentence later we get this crap: ‘She no longer wanted to be referred to as “she”.’ Just try to process that sentence for a minute.

Lola was understandably unhappy with this response and took action. “I wrote him back explaining why it wasn’t okay. No response.”

Lola asked explained why the Independent’s current editorial policy is wrong, telling Paul Gallagher, “By misgendering me, you send a clear message to your audience that it’s okay if they misgender me. In your own article, you state that I don’t like being referred to as “she” despite doing so yourself, so it sends a message to the audience that it’s okay for people to continue misgendering me.If that’s an editorial decision your paper wants to make, don’t expect a lot of trans people, especially non-binary people, to feel safe telling their stories to you.”

The email was sent on 30th December; it’s been a week and still no word. Lola hasn’t yet taken any further action, although they were clear in their emails to Gallagher that they would talk publicly about their experience if the matter was not resolved. While they’ve open to contacting editors, they’ve found it difficult to find out who to talk to and had “rubbish luck” in the past.

It’s shameful that the Independent are not even trying to engage any more. If it is indeed editorial policy that people are misgendered to make it easier for a cis audience to understand their stories, this needs to change sharpish. It is completely disrespectful to ignore a person’s pronouns. Lola’s gender assigned at birth is irrelevant to their current situation: one where a binarist, cissexist world is depriving them of the treatment they need. They suspect this bad reporting is down to ignorance.  “I think that they are trying to tell the story clearly and they’re trying to address a primarily cis audience that will be obsessed with what my “birth sex” is. In order to get media coverage for my surgery fundraiser, and talking about being trans in general, that’s kind of par for the course. Cis people are obsessed with it. But if you have to talk about someone’s “birth sex” you can do so and still use the right pronoun for them.”

Far from helping Lola, the Independent are exacerbating the problem. And after all that, the Indy haven’t even linked to Lola’s fundraiser (here it is again!). Lola says they wouldn’t have gone through this process if Gallagher had been open from the start that the article could not link to the fundraiser.

Lola has also tried appealing to the NHS for a breast reduction outside of a GIC, but the requirements for every borough they have ever lived in have excluded Lola due to the fact that their chest isn’t seen as large enough (Over a G cup) or requires a “normal” BMI. The irony being that Lola not only has a thyroid condition which makes it impossible for them to lose weight but also Lola partially wants a reduced chest because having one would make it easier for them to exercise. Lola also has flat feet and a knee condition that makes some form of exercise difficult, which the CCG does not take into account — they purely want the patient’s BMI to make a decision. CCGs in the boroughs Lola has lived in do not consider psychological distress as a factor for getting a breast reduction, despite a recommendation letter from both Lola’s therapist and endocrinologist explaining their thyroid condition.​

Lola has a few things they feel would right this wrong. For themself, a correction to their pronouns, or at the very least an explanation as to why they were repeatedly misgendered in the article. For the community, better journalistic standards are a must, and they suggest some simple changes to writing style: “People’s preferred pronouns should be used at all times. If you need to clarify someone’s “birth sex”, then you can do so by saying “born female” or what have you. But in general, the preferred pronouns need to be use for any person.” And finally, Lola would very much like it if you could help with their fundraising.

Lola is well on their way to raising the funds they need for their surgery, no thanks to the Independent. However, they still need another £3000 to be able to afford the operation and associated fees. Unless gender identity clinics revise their attitude to agender and nonbinary people literally right now, and instantly manage to deal with their lengthy waiting lists, going private is Lola’s only option–and that of many others in the same boat. In a just world, nobody would have to crowdfund essential medical attention, but we have not built that world yet. So please, please consider donating what you can to help Lola access the care that they need.

HelpLola.co.uk


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