Image - screen capture from The Straits Times Online

Thoughtless words can perpetuate bigotry

Image - screen capture from The Straits Times Online
Image – screen capture from The Straits Times Online

By Ghui

The role of a media news outlet is to convey information accurately and objectively. Even if it is a commentary where the writer’s own views are aired, these opinions are meant to be well researched and articulated with logical arguments formed to back up the writer’s thoughts.

It is with this in mind that I was rather concerned with the tone of the article published on The Straits Times entitled “No UK asylum for cross-dressing Singaporean”.

In the article, it is mentioned that a certain transgender Singaporean has failed in her bid to remain in the UK on the grounds of human rights. Without a full understanding of the case details, I will not comment on the merits of the case.

That said, I do find the tone of the reporting rather misinforming. The title suggests that the individual in question is a cross dresser. However, upon reading the article, it transpires that she is a transgender.

Cross-dressing and being a transgender are completely different things and it is extremely misleading to use the terms interchangeably as if they are one and the same. Cross-dressing has had a long history and there are many reasons for cross-dressing from theatre to disguise. A cross dresser is not necessarily a transgender and vice versa.

While not being an expert in the field, I do know that there is a difference between cross-dressing and being a transgender. To lump the two together and to use the phrases interchangeably is not only ignorant but also downright irresponsible.

A simple Google search defines transgender people as those with identities that cross over, move between, or otherwise challenge the socially constructed border between the genders. While this can include medical or social transition, it may not. No definition equates the two terms.

It is also important to note that there is no indication that the British Courts rejected the case because it was unmeritorious. The reason cited by Judge White was that while agreeing that the appellant would be unable to live officially as a woman in Singapore, there were laws there to protect the person from harassment.

It is also noteworthy that the British courts have respected this individual’s wish to be regarded as female and this is reflected in the judgment – something that The Straits Times seems to be refusing to do by referring to the individual in question as “him” or “the man” throughout. This does not give due weight to a genuine condition that is recognised by medical professionals and is dismissive and patronising to say the least.

The media should never seek to perpetuate bigotry or ignorance. By its rather thoughtless choice of words, The Straits Times is propagating and fostering prejudice as opposed to creating awareness.

As we move towards our 50th birthday, our society should really seek to become more progressive. A paper such as The Straits Times should really know better than to report in such an ill-informed manner.