When Rebel Media Reporters Fake Being Trans, They’re Not Doing Journalism

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When Rebel Media Reporters Fake Being Trans, They’re Not Doing Journalism

Cisgender reporters who record your children swimming should be alarming you, not non-binary youth trying to get an education.

Photo courtesy of Jannel Pechardo

Photo courtesy of Jannel Pechardo

Remember when I said writing about Jordan Peterson was a trap? This, right here, is stepping into a snare.

For those who don’t keep up with Rebel Media, the Ezra Levant-led online outlet born after Sun TV shut down, reporter Lauren Southern was on-site at a University of Toronto teach-in protest this week. While non-binary students explained why they found psychology professor Jordan Peterson’s recent statements harmful, she told attendees she was trans and interviewed them under those pretenses. Southern, 21, took to the mic with that pretense, too, taking a speaking opportunity prioritized by organizers for trans people in order to do so.

Southern’s supporters were on campus too. In a shaky video, a supporter giggles throughout Southern’s speech. “Man, she has balls,” they say. “Legally.”

She doesn’t, legally. Southern isn’t trans, but the day before the teach-in, Rebel posted a video showing Southern going through the processes of changed her gender designation from female to male. The video was done in the name of presenting how easy it is to change gender markers on government and medical documents, and the sinister implications for society her stress-free experiences were. It also shows that she’s one of those “politically motivated” gender outlaw types Peterson warned us about.

Lane Patriquin is a 22-year-old non-binary local who co-organized the event. Southern had talked to Patriquin, who found it jarring how fond the reporter was of social justice buzzwords. “You’re triggering me” and “you’re oppressing me” were phrases Southern had used in conversation.

“She very clearly showed no desire to learn about, or even acknowledge the humanity of the people she’d come to criticize,” Patriquin says. “All of her rhetoric was based on gross misinformation and hyperbolic assumptions about our lives, identities, and priorities, which was hugely discouraging given that the intent of the event was to create an experience of human interaction and sharing between the trans, non-binary and intersex communities and the public.”

The day after the teach-in, Rebel posted a video of reporter David Menzies conducting a social experiment that involved wearing a wig. He told community centre employees that he was a woman, and proceeded to record himself in the pool with Muslim children and women—who did not consent to being filmed—during sharia swimming time.

What Menzies and Southern have is attention. Even asking for trans interview sources who interacted with Southern draws her supporters. On a Facebook callout for sources I made, one claimed they would be willing to “go trans” for this story, but that positive quotes about Southern would be disregarded.

The commenter wrote, “They want the evil nazi pepe lauren info…”

I don’t think anyone wants Nazi Pepe anything. I think most people want actual journalism.

So what’s the takeaway from all this? Other than that cisgender media personalities are willing to instigate fear and ridicule against trans communities by any means necessary, there’s really nothing else but an ancient internet adage: don’t feed the troll. And in the year 2016, when Donald Trump is eternally trending, outrage is keeping trolls extremely well-fed.
Look, real journalists wouldn’t have pursued any of these social experiments for a very simple reason. There’s no story here.

But the commenter raises a good point: alt-right media has a very narrow view of who is trans.

Here’s some myth-busting: most trans people, like regular people, don’t like being angry all the time. Most trans people are not energy-draining genderless voids, but I haven’t met every single living trans person so this isn’t confirmed. Trans people have jobs to go to, and pizza to eat. Trans people are watching Luke Cage. Trans people are struggling to afford gender-affirming medical procedures, rent, and OSAP. Trans people are trying not to get assaulted, murdered, ostracized, or seen as punchlines to a very tired joke. Even the alt-right trans ones. (Believe me, as someone who spent their teens on 4chan and its /lgbt/ board, there are trans individuals of all political affiliations out there.)

Although journalists take no oaths, there are a few statements that guide us in our practice. We afflict the comfortable, and comfort the afflicted. We minimize harm. We don’t make ourselves the story.

Writing this is giving Rebel Media and its loyal fanbase a chance to see someone lunge for troll bait. Writing this is, unfortunately, making Southern the story, which despite established journalistic principles, is what she wants.

Instead of focusing on Rebel’s reporters and their identities, I’d rather these words serve as a reminder to any media professional who thinks transgender rights are a joke. Journalists, for the love of the oxford comma and all things holy, don’t treat queer and trans communities like viral social experiments.

When journalists traverse the shaky ethical grounds of going undercover, they are at their best when they are revealing wrongdoing. Famously, Nellie Bly went undercover in the 1880s to expose inhumane conditions at a women’s asylum.

Journalists who hide their identities for sleazier reasons erode public trust. There’s Nico Himes, a straight and married Daily Beast reporter who faked being gay to trawl for Olympians on Grindr. Himes’s story had several identifiable features for various athletes from homophobic countries, putting them in danger. And then there’s Margaret Wente, a serial ethics offender. Newfoundlanders who still won’t forgive Wente, in spite of her apology for insensitive coverage, take issue with how she hid her identity from her sources.

The problem society faces isn’t recognizing or politicizing trans identities. The problem is dealing with shitty cisgender people. All-gender washrooms aren’t menaces, cisgender sexual predators are. Inclusive legislation won’t burn your crops. The Apocalypse’s four horsemen aren’t unleashing singular theys like plagues. Cisgender reporters who record your children swimming for the sake of a social experiment should be alarming you, not non-binary youth trying to get an education.

Society is not collapsing because of increasing gender acceptance. Maybe we could spend more time on other issues, like government budgets, a devastating fentanyl epidemic that’s killing hundreds, rampant human rights abuses in the prison-industrial complexes, violent murders of trans women in this very city, you know, just to name a few leads. Someone should probably investigate this. Someone like a journalist, maybe.

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