I know I should stay away from newspaper articles on trans issues, especially tabloid newspapers, but I’m seeing one story being endlessly re-linked around the web with no comment on its content – content which I find objectionable on several grounds. So I guess I’ll just have to do it myself, she muttered, hefting the pink sparklehammer of deconstruction and casting a jaundiced eye over the offending tabloids.
The gist of the story concerns a trans man who came to Britain from Pakistan in December 2007, when he claimed asylum. Apparently he came to Britain to undergo his medical transition because, as the man’s solicitor, Toufique Hossain, said: “The claimant has a well-founded fear of persecution as a transgender male if returned to Pakistan”.
In the intervening 21 months between coming to Britain and finally winning his case it seems that not only has his transition been delayed, but he has also been held at Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre in an all-female unit. I wonder what kind of a field day the tabloids would have had if this had been a cis man held in an all-female detention centre.
I digress. The point is that this is a fairly short news article even though the case itself is notable as the Home Secretary has been made to reconsider a decision to refuse asylum to a trans man. This apparently follows a series of previous decisions to refuse asylum to trans people. In the words of the anonymous asylum seeker’s solicitor, Toufique Hossain:
“The [Home Office’s] acceptance of this case now amounting to a genuine fresh claim is a significant development in the treatment of transgender applicants within the immigration/human rights context.”
You would think there were substantial issues arising from this case that would merit further analysis and discussion. Instead, we have the story picked up by only two tabloid newspapers, each of which displays varying degrees of cissexism and transphobia in its coverage. The Daily Express’ treatment is noticeably more offensive, not least for its insistence on misgendering the asylum seeker from start to finish. As if that wasn’t enough, it then quotes a representative of the clearly reactionary TaxPayers Alliance as saying:
“This is yet another example of the myriad of ways in which people can gain free access to taxpayers’ money and residency. While it is right that we are a safe haven for those in fear for their life, the definition of what qualifies for asylum has gone too far.”
Which smacks as a variation of the very racist trope usually heard as something like “Damn foreigners, coming over here and stealing our jobs”. It’s a frankly ludicrous assertion in the light of Judge Mark Ockelton’s comment that he had “real difficulty” in understanding why the Home Office persisted in defending its decision despite the “strong evidence” in the asylum seeker’s favour. Toufique Hossain again, demolishing in one sentence the outraged whining of the political-correctness-gone-mad brigade:
“It is unfortunate that the Home Secretary only reached this decision with the assistance of the High Court – significant public funds would have been saved if an earlier and sensible decision was made.”
But perhaps the award for the most subliminally racist, Islamophobic and scaremongering quote should go to the Worthing Herald for this toxic little paragraph:
Human rights lawyers believe the case could set a precedent for other transgender applicants from Muslim countries who say they fear ill-treatment because their condition is not understood in the Islamic world.
It first tries to give itself objectivity by referring to (unspecified) human rights lawyers, before playing on the racist and xenophobic fears of middle England. The idea that every trans man in Pakistan will now be on the next plane over because of Britain’s “completely lax immigration policy” defies belief. And where is “the Islamic world”, anyway? You’d think it was on another planet and its inhabitants had to hop aboard a flying saucer to come here with their apparently single-minded aim of “squandering taxpayers’ money”. Never mind that the outcome of this case makes it clear that they’d actually have solid, legitimate health reasons for doing so. And meanwhile, how many Brits are heading abroad as so-called “medical tourists”? I’m not seeing much of an outcry about that from these journalists.
The tabloid press, pfft.