When I came out and began identifying and living as a woman full time in 1997, there really wasn’t much in the way of media that focused on or even included trans people and the issues that matter in our lives. We had just one well-known and well-respected community columnist, Gwendolyn Ann Smith, and one broadcast radio show focusing on trans people and issues, GenderTalk, hosted by Nancy Nangeroni which was streamed and archived online.
Both Gwen and Nancy were profound influences on me in terms of figuring out what I wanted to do to participate in the effort to promote transgender rights and inclusion. I knew I wanted to be an activist, but it was through these women and the examples they set that I also came to understand that I wanted to be a media maker too, a journalist and a radio host. I found my passion as an activist in striving to become the kind of community voice they were.
A little less than a year later, I started my own email list called “Becky’s List” where I’d publish op-eds on trans issues and topics. A few years later, in 2001, I teamed up with another trans woman to create “Trans-Sister Radio,” which was, as far as I know, the very first Internet radio show by, for, and about trans people and the issues that matter in our lives.
For a few years, we were pretty much it as far as trans-relevant media went. Gwen was the only one of us to be able to score a paying job when she began writing “Transmissions” for the Bay Area Reporter in 2000, and it probably wasn’t a coincidence that she was hired by a paper which serves San Francisco, the U.S. city with the highest percentage of trans residents in the country.
Since then, we’ve seen a steady increase in the amount of media content specifically by, for, and about trans people in LGBT media and elsewhere, but it’s only very recently, within the last two years or so, that trans people in media are truly breaking through to the mainstream, culturally and socially.
It’s always been frustrating for me that even as efforts around gay and lesbian issues like marriage and military service have benefitted immensely from significant coverage on cable news networks like MSNBC and CNN, there’s far less legislative progress on the historically mostly ignored issues of LGBT and trans-specific antidiscrimination protections, with Delaware and Maryland being the only states to add trans protections to their antidiscrimination laws in the last two years.
Now, it looks like even that wall is finally coming down. MSNBC’s new digital platform Shift features several new online-only shows, including two, which are nothing short of groundbreaking.
So Popular! with Janet Mock is the very first national mainstream news media offering to be hosted by a trans person, and Out There with Thomas Roberts is the very first national mainstream news media show to specifically focus on LGBT people and issues.
This is huge, and I’m not just saying this because I’ve appeared on Out There… For the first time ever, MSNBC is making trans people, our lives, our stories, our issues, and our voices, a real priority.
No longer are trans people just on the outside looking in at mainstream news media, hoping cisgender hosts would notice us now and then, as we were years ago. Now we’re taking that critical step I’ve dreamed of for so long: We’re starting to become an integral part of the mainstream media ourselves.
The dream is real.
This changes everything.