In 2015, NBC Nightly News conducted an interview series examining the struggles that transgender people face in society. One of the individuals interviewed was a transgender boy named Jacob, who was 5-years old at the time of the interview. The story begins by explaining the internal and external struggles that Jacob faced when he was still called Mia, which was his birth name. He explains that he was always uncomfortable with his birth name and always wanted to cut his hair as short as possible. His parents assumed that he was simply going through a phase, even when Jacob’s mother caught him poking at himself and audibly questioning “why God made him wrong.” His mother notes that she was confused and concerned and hoped his “obsession” with being a boy would go away. It was not until Jacob was consistently and persistently requesting to be addressed as a boy at home, that his mother knew that he truly was a boy.
When given the opportunity to enroll in a new school, one in which people would immediately meet him as a boy, Jacob was ecstatic. Jacob’s parents allowed him to style his hair as he desired, and also told family and friends to call him Jacob. By enabling Jacob to live publicly as a boy, his parents were supporting his true identity. A doctor is also interviewed in the segment, and she explains that gender identity is formed at a very young age, and children typically know their identify between the ages of 3 and 5. She strongly advocated for parents to allow their transgender children to openly express themselves, given that their children will suffer if they do not; this suffering includes a variety of psychiatric outcome, such as anxiety, depression and attempting suicide. Jacob’s mom understands that while people may judge her family for allowing their son to publicly live as a boy at a young age, “a mother heart knows when her child is suffering,” and she wants her child to be as happy as possible. Additionally, Jacob’s father alludes to the notion that parents are sometimes not accepting of their child’s gender identity, but notes that, “Jacob has made that choice in his mind, in his heart. It’s whether or not we accept it or not.” By accepting Jacob for who he truly is, his parents are allowing him to have a strong support system that is willing to fight for his happiness and well-being. It is also important to note that at the conclusion of the segments, Lester Holt expresses that NBC is hosting a live discussion after the show with the doctor who was interviewed as well as the report in order to allow people to ask questions. This seemingly mundane discussion provides a open space for the greater public to be educated on transgender issues.
Although Jacob’s parents ultimately decided to accept Jacob for who he truly is, there is a looming awkwardness throughout the entire segment. The first time Jacob’s father is introduced, he tells the interviewer that he hoped Jacob’s desire to express himself as a boy was a phase. Similarly, the first time Jacob’s mother was introduced, she tells the interviewer that she hoped his “obsession” with being a boy would dissipate. Their comments make it blatantly apparent that they were initially very uncomfortable allowing Jacob to express himself for who he truly is. Parents often impose their cisgender gaze on their transgender children. Essentially, the cisgender gaze is an act by which cisgender people abuse their privilege and power by looking down upon transgender people. In practice, the cisgender gaze is meant to make transgender people feel as though they are inferior to cisgender people. By agonizing over their child’s gender identity, parents often refuse to accept that their child is unhappy, and, instead, disregard their suffering as a phase. In doing so, such parents are expressing their desire to have their child fit society’s “norm” of being cisgender. As seen in the segment, the doctor explains that when speaking to the parents of transgender children, she needs to reinforce the fact their child is not going through as phase, even when the parents want to believe that they are.
In order to allow children to express themselves openly and without fear of being ridiculed for their gender identity, parents must love their children for who they are. Parents serve as the primary source of knowledge for children; thus, they must promote notions of inclusivity and acceptance. In doing so, their children will adopt diverse ways of thinking, which will result in positive feelings about their gender identity as well as an appreciation for all members of society.
Given that this story was part of a larger segment on the lives of transgender children, NBC Nightly News was targeting viewers who likely have incomplete perspectives about the struggles that transgender people face. In my household, I grew up watching NBC Nightly News given that my parents were avid viewers. Therefore, I infer that the typical viewers are middle-aged individuals, who, historically, have had little exposure to learning about trans issues. By targeting people who did not grow up learning about such issues, NBC Nightly News was attempting to provide its audience with an educational opportunity to learn about the struggles that transgender children face. Unfortunately, by allowing viewers to leave comments following the segment, an opportunity arose to spew hateful ideas. Despite the fact that the segment was intended to educate NBC Nightly News’ viewers, there were likely a number of viewers who were angered by the segment. Therefore, such viewers had the opportunity to leave hateful and transphobic comments following the segment. By spewing hatred, the segment’s intended educational purpose may have been tainted and diluted. Therefore, future news segments should consider different avenues for trans education in order to prevent spiteful viewers from further exacerbating the issues surrounding transphobia.
“Life As A Transgender Child.” Youtube, uploaded by NBC News, 22 April 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVmau1cM5TU