Lately I've been so grateful for Assigned Media (assignedmedia.org), a new outlet where journalist Evan Urquhart keeps track of transgender news, and provides a corrective to transphobic media coverage. To find out more about Assigned Media, I reached out to Evan, and here's what he told me.
What was your motivation for founding Assigned Media?
Like all good journalists, I am highly motivated by spite. See, last year I applied for a writing job. I really wanted it, and my interview went great, so I felt really good about my chances... and then I didn't get the job. Now, of course, this had happened before — it's a tough industry with a ton of highly talented people looking for work. But this time, the note I got was that I didn't have enough experience covering breaking news.
Breaking news? I thought. They seriously thought I couldn't do quick hit pieces responding to breaking news? That's the easy stuff! How DARE they?
Within 24 hours, I'd come up with the idea for Assigned Media, a website that publishes daily, tracking transphobic propaganda and providing fact checking, context, and analysis. I spent a couple weeks reaching out to people I admired in the industry, asking them for advice as I built the site to help make it the best it could be, and then went live.
Was this a situation where you felt like there were stories the mainstream media outlets weren't covering accurately? Or was it more the case that you felt like there needed to be a clearinghouse for all the important stories about trans people?
It's been frustrating over the past few years to feel like opportunities for transgender journalists to tell trans stories have been drying up. Meanwhile, when cisgender reporters cover trans issues, they often get the story very wrong. All that would be bad enough, but at the same time the GOP has made legislation attacking trans rights their top priority. So there's a ton of need for coverage on this story, and the coverage we have isn't very good.
I took all that, and then I thought about the other publications which cover the LGBTQ+ community, from big ones like them.us to smaller ones like translash.org. I didn't want to replicate good work that other people were already doing, so I chose media watchdoggery as something we didn't already have in a consistent way.
I think there's a real need for people to be able to quickly figure out what some crazy conservative politician is ranting about when he thows in an offhand reference to, for example, the high school girls' volleyball team in Randolph, VT. Assigned is where you can go for that.
I discovered Assigned Media because of a helpful post providing additional context to an article about detransitioners in The Atlantic. Are you hoping that media outlets will see your pieces critiquing their work and maybe be more careful in future?
Unlike right wing media, mainstream reporters actually care about accuracy and can be embarrassed if you point out ethical lapses, errors, or things they missed. I try to be very clear and careful in my criticism, and give writers who may have a bit of bias credit when they're careful, check their facts, and include contrasting opinions in an honest way. I believe they can do better, and I hope my criticism will make them want to do better. It would really serve everyone, especially the readers, if the coverage of this issue was more balanced, careful, and fact based.
A lot of big media outlets don't have any trans or non-binary columnists, editors or regular contributors. Why is it so important for trans people to be writing about our own community?
In my perfect world there wouldn't be a need for someone like me, covering transphobic propaganda, because that wouldn't exist. But there would still be a need for trans people to tell trans stories. Diverse experiences make for better, more varied stories and everyone deserves to see stories about people like themselves.
Right now, though, at this moment, we don't just need positive and affirming stories or art about trans lives, as vital as those are. We desperately need careful, high-quality journalism to help us understand the increasingly vicious political environment and the attacks on the trans and LGBTQ+ communities. We need that to protect ourselves and fight back. With so much bias even in many of the mainstream media stories, and with so few trans and nonbinary people having the opportunity to work in mainstream media, as you point out, trans people have no choice but to provide that coverage ourselves.
And how can trans writers cover our community in a way that will appeal to cis audiences? How do we reassure cis people who feel threatened by the increasing number of trans kids, and who are terrified by all the alarming stories about us? Should we even be trying to reassure them?
Everyone has different strengths, and no one should feel like they "have to" comfort, cajole, or reassure cis audiences if that's not where their heart or their talents lie. For me, personally, I've got this schtick, this logic-and-evidence-following-journalist persona, which a lot of cisgender people seem to respond well to. Most of my writing has been for Slate, which has always been known for their persuasive essays, so I guess it's just a mode I'm very comfortable in. With Assigned, I see it as a place where I always have my trans audience at the top of my mind, but cisgender people are welcome and certainly those who are interested can find information, fact checking, etc as well.
Ultimately, I really believe trans people have factual evidence and right on our side. We don't have much else, perhaps, but those are pretty good strengths to have. For me, the more I can persuade a cis person that I've taken their concerns seriously, that I'm giving their side of things the benefit of the doubt, and that when I present my arguments it's not in any spirit of anger or hostility or even fear, but just me trying to get to the truth as an honest journalist, the more positively cis folks seem to respond. But all of that is just what fits my personality the best. Not everyone is persuaded by these sorts of logical arguments! So I'd encourage other trans people to think about what their own strengths are — whether it's making amazing art or telling their personal story, or supporting and lifting other trans folks up.
What gives you hope for the future of trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming folks?
Throughout history, people like us have existed. Some have been born into cultures where there were more than two gender categories, or where gender nonconformity was seen in a positive or spiritual light, but many have been forced to exist in deeply hostile, repressive environments. In spite of that, we have always been part of the human experience, and always will.
None of us can choose the period of history we're born into, any more than we can choose the sex we were assigned at birth. But we do have a choice in how we respond to what we're saddled with. I try to respond in ways that comfort other trans people and help strengthen their resolve, and to unsettle, afflict, and deny victory to people who wish trans people harm. I can't save the world, but I do know that whatever the outcome of this moment in history, it will matter to other trans people that I lived, and that I never backed down.
Finally, what are your hopes for the future of Assigned Media?
Assigned media is only barely over three months old, and I am immensely heartened and grateful for the response I've had so far. It feels like most of the people who are finding the site really like what I'm doing, so my primary goal at the moment is to reach more people so those who'd like Assigned know that Assigned exists. So please, SHARE IT, tell your friends, share it on social, follow me on Twitter @assignedmedia or on Mastodon @email@example.com, and maaaaaaybe bookmark the homepage, just so you don't lose track of us if Twitter dies.
Thinking a little bit longer term, this is just the beginning. Like I said, I don't think trans people have any other choice but to create the journalism the mainstream isn't doing for ourselves. To that end, I want to build Assigned into a permanent fixture, a place for telling trans stories and holding mainstream and right wing media accountable. I'd like to add another full time reporter (right now it's all just me), specifically someone who can do deeper, longer investigative work while I continue to do quick hit, daily coverage of breaking news. The single thing that will most help me in achieving that (unless you happen to know people who provide grants to small LGBTQ+ nonprofits, in which case email me), is to become a member. Membership is $5/month, you get a bonus essay from me in your inbox every Thursday, and it both helps to directly support me, and will also help me to convince funders to take this project seriously when it's time to start looking for grant funding in the next 3-6 months.
As regular readers of this newsletter will know, I'm writing some New Mutants comics right now, featuring Escapade, the trans superhero I helped to create. (I guess I'm trying to do my part to change the narrative about trans people too.) Right now, I'm writing a miniseries called New Mutants: Lethal Legion, and I'd appreciate it if you could request it from your local comic book store. The first issue comes out in early March, but it's especially helpful to request it before Feb. 6, when comic-book stores put in their orders for issues. This is very much a vote-with-your-wallet situation: if you want to see more of Escapade, and want more stories about trans superheroes, you need to show support for this stuff.
Meanwhile! The third volume of my young adult space fantasy trilogy, Promises Stronger Than Darkness, comes out April 11, and this is also a situation where pre-ordering makes a huge, massive difference. I'm really happy with how the trilogy ends, and how all of those themes about identity and heroism and fighting fascism come full circle. Please let your local bookstore (or Bookshop.org) know if you want to know what happens to Rachael, Elza and the rest of their friends...