Accrington primary schoolteacher Lucy Meadows, who had transitioned during the Christmas holidays, was found dead at her home last Tuesday. There were no suspicious circumstances though the cause of her death is not yet known. Even so a number of people have assumed that Lucy took her own life. There is a shockingly high incidence (34%) of attempted suicide among transgender people:
Some people are laying the blame for her death on the media’s handling of her transition, especially a Daily Mail opinion piece (now removed from the Mail’s website) which argued that Lucy should have changed schools on transition. This is why a candlelit vigil for Lucy is to be held outside the Daily Mail’s offices in London at 6.30pm tonight.
Lucy’s transition had been covered, just prior to Christmas, by a local paper which reported that some parents were unhappy about her returning to school as a woman. The Church of England school where she worked, and the Diocese, which had been fully informed of what was happening, appear to have been supportive, and the parents appropriately informed. However, some of the parents’ comments, as reported, suggest that they didn’t appreciate the difference between transition and cross dressing.
It was one of these parents, reported in the local paper back in December, who made the suggestion that the teacher should have made a fresh start in another school on transition. This, of course, used to be the way gender transition was managed, by building a completely new identity in another community. As well as being artificial – especially when people were encouraged to create a former life as if their earlier one had not existed – it could be very stressful, as it removed people from their support networks and the routines of daily life. Nowadays ‘the real life experience’ tends to happen where people are, within their own families and at their current workplace (though some people do tend to move on shortly after transition, usually because they have ‘moved on’ psychologically and spiritually or so that they can do so).
One mother commented that her children were happy with what was happening and that their education was all that she cared about, adding, wisely, that Lucy was not the first teacher to transition and would not be the last.
Indeed, I can think of two teacher friends who had brushes with the press but who escaped the sort of exposure that befell Lucy. One was referred to in the local paper, just like Lucy, when the school announced her transition, but it was all very matter of fact, and the story was not developed once she had returned to work. The other, at a much more high profile school, invited the journalist into her home when he called, and having talked through what would be happening, was delighted to hear him ask her, ‘I don’t think there’s story here, do you?’
And that is how it should have been for Lucy. Although in a public role the story of her transition was hardly in the public interest. It was, as the school insisted, a personal matter, and one for which Lucy had requested privacy so that she could focus on her job to which she was committed. She certainly should not have ended up being discussed in the Daily Mail but this is what happens to Trans people, as was demonstrated – twice over – to the Leveson Inquiry: shortly after Trans Media Watch had submitted its evidence of disrespectful handling of trans people’s stories, Helen Belcher returned to the Inquiry with more glaring examples that had appeared in the press in the intervening days.
But if our press is not sufficiently regulated the blogosphere is even more laissez faire. One of my friends is concerned that it is actually other Trans people who have continued to breach Lucy’s request for privacy by writing blogs and sending tweets about her before we even know how she died and prior to her funeral. I can understand where she is coming from, and I have deliberately not included links in this post, so that readers are not encouraged to trawl through the coverage. But I can also understand why people are angry about the press’s empty promises of good practice in relation to Trans people, and at the insensitive way in which transgender people’s stories are often reported. Overnight, whether or not there is a link between her death and the press coverage that preceded it, Lucy has become symbolic of the hurt done to Trans people by the media, a martyr if you like, and that is why candles will be lit for her tonight. Let’s all say a prayer for her at half-past six this evening.