Topless “Transgendered Men” in Rehoboth

“Transgendered men go topless in Rehoboth” is the headline of a recent article by The News Journal in Delaware. “Action called upsetting, not illegal” was the subhead.

Full stop right there—not only does the headline use “transgendered” instead of “transgender” (I realize some people still use “transgendered” but I believe that “transgender” is the preferred word) but more importantly, as the article confirms, the use of the phrase “transgendered men” is completely inaccurate in this case.

Here’s an excerpt:

Rehoboth Beach and the local Internet have been buzzing for days after a few transgendered men caused a stir on the beach over the holiday weekend by removing their tops and revealing their enhanced breasts.

Police there were called to the beach after lifeguards requested that the sunbathers replace their tops.

“Passers-by came up to the lifeguard and said they were alarmed and unhappy with the females showing their breasts,” Police Chief Keith Banks said. “The lifeguard responded and saw that they were males.”

Banks said police were called because the men originally refused to put their tops back on, but had consented before police arrived. Officers made sure the situation was under control, and no citations were issued.

These individuals clearly were transgender women, not transgender men. Then there’s the comment by the police chief that the individuals “were males.” Setting aside his ignorance on the subject, shouldn’t the article have pointed out that he was incorrect? Then again, the editors from the beginning didn’t understand the difference.

The article goes on to discuss the peculiar situation of whether going topless was illegal for these individuals. The consensus seems to be that it was not illegal because the transgender women, despite having breast implants, still had male genitalia.

Steve Elkins, executive director of the LGBT nonprofit CAMP Rehoboth, added these thoughts to the mix:

Elkins said he also thinks that it is horrific that some people who voiced outrage through radio talk shows and the Internet only have a problem because they were transgendered.

“Whoever called and [initially] complained about a woman having her top off,” he said. “The people now trying to make something about the fact that they were also men, they are trying to have it both ways. You can’t have it both ways.”

Setting aside the apparent misunderstanding by Elkins “that they were also men,” his point about a double standard is well taken, not only socially but also journalistically. An article about a group of topless women usually doesn’t make it into the news, unless they happen to be transgender.

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5 Responses

  1. “Transgendered” is gramatically incorrect because you only add -ed to the end of verbs. “Transgender” is not a verb. It’s an adjective.

  2. Interestingly, I had someone email us at OutQ News and say he knew the transgender people involved, and that they were, in fact female-to-male. If true, that would mean that all the initial reports were correct, and all the subsequent blogging and commentary, including this one, exactly wrong.

    However, the emailer wanted to remain anonymous and said that all the transmen wanted to remain anonymous as well (since what they had done WAS, in fact, technically illegal). That meant I couldn’t substantiate the claim, and there my efforts to pursue it ended. Still, it was a bit of a lesson in the sometimes-extreme difficulty in getting this stuff correct.

  3. I heard the same thing Tim did from my own (also unconfirmable) sources, that these were FTM transmen, not transwomen, and that the original AP story got it completely backwards.

    As someone who’s been covering the trans community for a long time, this perspective seems far more credible to me. Frankly, I don’t know any self-identified transwomen who would run around topless on a beach, because it’s contrary to how they see themselves, while being shirtless on a beach is something transmen would be far more likely to do as it affirms their masculinity.

  4. One slight tweak to Rebecca’s note above. Because I see the AP broadcast feed, I happen to know that Associated Press’ first dispatch was a re-write of the Delaware paper’s (possibly correct) “transgender men” story. A couple of hours later, AP sent a (possibly incorrect) correction to “transgender women.” I assume that’s because trans activists and media watchdogs called AP editors and squawked. There may be plenty of embarrassment to go around on this story — but I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure.

  5. Whatever the outcome of the actual facts in this story (which I am quite curious to know), it doesn’t change the fact that the media still has a lot of room for growth when it comes to understanding how to report stories involving transgender people.

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