Murdered woman’s flat set alight; cis man arrested

October 19, 2009

I know I’m a bit late with this one, but the media coverage – primarily in the Daily Mail, but also by BBC News – is, quite frankly, really starting to irritate me and I really have to rant a little here, if only for reasons of catharsis.

A news story began circulating late last week about the death of a woman in a flat fire in Brighton which was being treated as “unexplained” by Sussex Police. The woman, later named as Andrea Waddell, was pronounced dead at the scene. A subsequent post-mortem examination revealed that she had been strangled, and a forensic inspection found that the fire had started in Ms Waddell’s bedroom. Additionally, to quote the Daily Mail:

Police informed her parents, Sonia and Robin, of her death and also of the fact that Miss Waddell had been working as a prostitute.

By Saturday 17 October, Sussex Police had arrested a man on suspicion of her murder, and the investigation continues.

As tragic as this story is – and make no mistake, it is tragic – one cannot help but wonder why the mass media decided to give the case so much attention.

However, what apparently tips this story over into true newsworthiness in the minds of the journalists, is not that Ms Waddell was so young, or that she suffered from scoliosis and fibromyalgia, or even that she worked as a prostitute.

No, what really gives journalists license to publish reams of offensive irrelevancies is… yes, you guessed: Ms Waddell was a transsexual woman. Although this doesn’t seem to have come to light until yesterday, neither the Daily Mail or BBC News wasted a minute in drawing this important piece of news to the nation’s attention. Never mind that it has absolutely no bearing on the report, the fearless hacks pounced on it with all the self-righteous fervour they could muster and between them, have managed to introduce an entirely unnecessary element of cissexism into their coverage.

For example, from the Daily Mail:

[…] it is hard to believe that Andrea Waddell was born a man.

One of the commonest attacks made on transsexual women is the essentialist trope that, if you are male-assigned at birth, you will never be anything else. Our pasts are endlessly and forever held against us. This invisibilises our morphic dissonance and denies the potential for change.

And from BBC News:

[…] she underwent gender reassignment surgery after moving to Brighton in 2004.

I’d question why information about a surgical procedure carried out five years ago has even the slightest relevance to this report. Unless, of course, her accused murderer should decide to use the trans panic defence if/when his case comes before the court. But that, as they say, would be an entirely different story.

To be honest, you could leave out the fact that Ms Waddell was transsexual and the story – as tragic as it is – would scarcely merit a mention outside the Brighton Evening Argus: A woman, working as a prostitute, was strangled and her flat set on fire. Police have arrested a suspect and the investigation continues.

But the moment it becomes known that a transsexual woman is involved it’s worthy of national media coverage, apparently. My already limited faith in the ability of the mass news media to run a story about transsexual women without further objectifying, marginalising or just plain othering us, continues to decline.

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Quoted links:

Daily Mail: It’s interesting to note that, although the headline was changed sometime over the weekend (not that one is particularly less offensive than the other), the link goes to the same page. In other words, it doesn’t matter which of the following two links you click on, you’ll end up at the same place.

BBC News: Although the BBC did at least appear to keep up with developments, it too continued the time-honoured news media tradition of including numerous offensive irrelevancies:

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Cross-posted at The F-Word

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Curtsey to Steph for the inspiration/motivation

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