The Sexist

Transgender Shoplifting Story Inspires Absurd Corrections


NBC Washington shows what happens when news outlets fail to confirm the correct gender identity of their subjects before publication. The outlet has just posted another story about the two shoplifting suspects who were shot by police near the University of Maryland last Friday. Here's the absurd lede:

Upon closer review, it appears two shoplifting suspects shot by a Prince George's County police officer weren't men, as originally reported, or cross-dressers, as was later reported, but transgender women.

The third time is the charm for NBC, who took four days to get the gender identity of the suspects right. NBC does one better on the Washington Post, at least. The Post first reported that the suspects were women, then reported that they were cross-dressing men, and finally issued the vague and misleading clarification that they were men dressed as women who "were not in disguise."

Apparently, the paper has an aversion to just calling the suspects "transgender women." Interestingly enough, the Post's first iteration—"women"—would have worked just fine. Martin Weil, the Post reporter who wrote the second story on the suspects—the one outing them as "men"—said in an interview that the paper decided to run the story in order to stay competitive with the television news outlets that had reported the suspects' sex as "male."“The police had informed us that the suspects appeared to be men wearing women’s clothing, and we didn’t know too much more about any of the details,” says Weil. “We posted that story on the web so as not to look as if we were totally unaware of the unusual circumstances.”

Weil adds that the original story, which identified the suspects simply as “women,” risked inspiring some gender-related confusion of its own. “When you’re writing about women criminals in the newspaper, it behooves you to be extremely careful, because it alters people’s perceptions of the world,” he says. “When you read about a woman seemingly recklessly dragging a police officer, you get an unusual impression of the range of behaviors that are possible. And maybe it’s an accurate impression. But if it’s not an accurate one, I wanted to correct that in any way that was possible. So I decided, in a burst of enthusiasm, to post that item on the Web early Sunday morning.”

Beyond Weil's enthusiasm for accuracy, the fact remains that “cross-dressing” shoplifters make for more sensational crime suspects than even women do. While women aren't generally seen as criminals, transgender women are often cast in the public eye as fakers, predators, and criminals against humanity—shoplifters or not. Weil says he never meant to capitalize upon the “man in a dress” punchline. “The last intention I had was the demonization of anyone, of any gender, or transgender either,” he says. “I just never thought at the time that they could be transgender. I assumed they must be people in disguise, or people who happen to prefer that mode of dress.”

Illustration by Bonnie Kennedy

  • recursiveparadox

    Weil is setting my bullshit alarms off in all sorts of ways.

    How the fuck does he expect us to believe that he isn't cissexist when he inherently thinks of men in disguise when he sees a case like this?

  • TJ

    Am I being too self-centered in thinking that I was the catalyst for this blog? Hee hee hee... :)

    The first thing that I thought about the article was, "That's nice that you cleared it up." But then I had this question: was this supposed to be a retraction of some sort? I understand that these two women are criminals, but were they issued some sort of apology? Clearly they considered themselves female based on what Renee Bailey said. And with names like Renee Bailey and Kelly Bright, how in the world would the police or anyone else think that these are men? WTF!

  • william

    While confused sexuality may not be mysterious to those who identify as transgender -- it is highly confusing to many others, including police. Give them, and the media a break. I happen to have personally met one of these suspects and can tell you "she" is living as a woman but physically appears to be very, very male. I left the meeting pretty confused myself and would have to consult an expert to properly categorize this person.

  • Victor

    I'm gonna give this a big WTF, and simply an attempt to create an argument where none really exists.

    This is a crime report, not an interview. For the purposes of a police report the classification of the suspects is the important point; ie - sex, and manner of dress. Yes, if the information had been present, it would have been most useful to identify the suspects as female transgenders. But then you'd be calling foul claiming there's no reason to point out they are trans (which in fact there is just as much reason to point out a transgender suspect as a male or female).

    Barring knowledge of their preferred sexual identity, sex and mode of dress IS important, and the information WAS accurate.

  • Carisa Cunningham

    I don't think we can just expect mainstream journalists, even those with good intentions, to know what to do, how to look at this, the correct terminology to use, etc,about what to them is unfamiliar territory if we don't take the responsibility to reach out to them. An event like this is an opportunity for GLAAD, for example, to connect with Mr. Weil about terminology and about transgender issues generally. I accept at face value his explanations and would approach him in the same good faith. The world doesn't change otherwise.

  • Eva-Genevieve Scarborough

    The thing that strikes me the most is the statement given " an interview that the paper decided to run the story in order to stay competitive with the television news outlets that had reported..."

    I am transgendrred and have been living in my new identity 100% of the time for 3-1/2 years now. I identify as a a transgendered woman (regardless of how presentable I happen to be). I have seen and read so much idiocy in the media (and heard to my face and behind my back) that I am getting used to it and simply ignore it. However, it is the admission herein that what drives the reporting isn't the news itself, or even the truth of a matter, but rather it is geting a competitive edge regaredless of the truth that bothers me.

    What ever happened to just the plain old facts?

    It is this kind of thing that does the most harm not just the transgendrered among us, but to all of us because the news media can say anything they want without being held accountable.

    To the issue of gender identity I would say to the reporters just what I tell everyone else - if you are in doubt of a person's gender identity don't speculate, guess or come up with a competitive term, but rather ASK THE PERSON how they identify.

  • Matt C

    What defines a female? Is it the type of clothes a person wears? Is it the type of general interests a person has? Or is it even the choice in sexual partners one prefers?

    If you answered No (like I do) to the above questions then it would stand to reason that a man could share these same characteristics and still be considered a man.

    Why then do some feel the need to ignore fact and incorrectly label either themselves or others with a stereotypical "gender identity" that defines ones sex by the way they dress & behave rather than their biological fact.

    I applaud the Washington Post for getting the facts correct on this story and not letting political correctness cloud the truth.

  • Gregory A Butler

    So, if a deluded man calls himself a "woman" and puts on a dress, the cops and the media are supposed to call him a woman ....despite his penis, his testicles, his prostate and the five o'clock shadow he'll grow if he doesn't shave every day?

    Sorry, but that's bullshit - he's a confused man in a dress!

    You are what you are, NOT what you claim to be!

    If the cops arrest me and I claim diplomatic immunity, because I have a delusion that I am the King of Swaziland, should they respect that delusion also?

    Sorry, just because you THINK you are a woman doesn't make you a woman?

    And BTW, could we keep this discussion in PLAIN AMERICAN ENGLISH, and not use obtuse Gender Studies Department jargonese like "cissexist"?

    This isn't the Brown University Women's Studies Department, folks!!!!!

  • Gregory A Butler

    Also, the real issue here is being lost.

    These guys (and that's what they are - GUYS) were Shot For Stealing A Dress.

    That's the REAL issue here - not what pronouns the Washington Post's crime reporter uses!

    I'm sure if you called these men "he" but Didn't Shoot Them, they would prefer that to being called "she" and being shot over a dress!

    This is one of the main reasons why Political Correctness is so destructive!