Murdered woman’s flat set alight; cis man arrested

// 19 October 2009

I know I’m a bit late with this one, but the media coverage – primarily in the Daily Mail, but also by BBC News – is, quite frankly, really starting to irritate me and I really have to rant a little here, if only for reasons of catharsis.

A news story began circulating late last week about the death of a woman in a flat fire in Brighton which was being treated as “unexplained” by Sussex Police. The woman, later named as Andrea Waddell, was pronounced dead at the scene. A subsequent post-mortem examination revealed that she had been strangled, and a forensic inspection found that the fire had started in Ms Waddell’s bedroom. Additionally, to quote the Daily Mail:

Police informed her parents, Sonia and Robin, of her death and also of the fact that Miss Waddell had been working as a prostitute.

By Saturday 17 October, Sussex Police had arrested a man on suspicion of her murder, and the investigation continues.

As tragic as this story is – and make no mistake, it is tragic – one cannot help but wonder why the mass media decided to give the case so much attention.

However, what apparently tips this story over into true newsworthiness in the minds of the journalists, is not that Ms Waddell was so young, or that she suffered from scoliosis and fibromyalgia, or even that she worked as a prostitute.

No, what really gives journalists license to publish reams of offensive irrelevancies is… yes, you guessed: Ms Waddell was a transsexual woman. Although this doesn’t seem to have come to light until yesterday, neither the Daily Mail or BBC News wasted a minute in drawing this important piece of news to the nation’s attention. Never mind that it has absolutely no bearing on the report, the fearless hacks pounced on it with all the self-righteous fervour they could muster and between them, have managed to introduce an entirely unnecessary element of cissexism into their coverage.

For example, from the Daily Mail:

[…] it is hard to believe that Andrea Waddell was born a man.

One of the commonest attacks made on transsexual women is the essentialist trope that, if you are male-assigned at birth, you will never be anything else. Our pasts are endlessly and forever held against us. This invisibilises our morphic dissonance and denies the potential for change.

And from BBC News:

[…] she underwent gender reassignment surgery after moving to Brighton in 2004.

I’d question why information about a surgical procedure carried out five years ago has even the slightest relevance to this report. Unless, of course, her accused murderer should decide to use the trans panic defence if/when his case comes before the court. But that, as they say, would be an entirely different story.

To be honest, you could leave out the fact that Ms Waddell was transsexual and the story – as tragic as it is – would scarcely merit a mention outside the Brighton Evening Argus: A woman, working as a prostitute, was strangled and her flat set on fire. Police have arrested a suspect and the investigation continues.

But the moment it becomes known that a transsexual woman is involved it’s worthy of national media coverage, apparently. My already limited faith in the ability of the mass news media to run a story about transsexual women without further objectifying, marginalising or just plain othering us, continues to decline.

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Quoted links:

Daily Mail: It’s interesting to note that, although the headline was changed sometime over the weekend (not that one is particularly less offensive than the other), the link goes to the same page. In other words, it doesn’t matter which of the following two links you click on, you’ll end up at the same place.

BBC News: Although the BBC did at least appear to keep up with developments, it too continued the time-honoured news media tradition of including numerous offensive irrelevancies:

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Cross-posted at Bird of Paradox

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Curtsey to Steph for the inspiration/motivation

Comments From You

alyson // Posted 20 October 2009 at 2:57 pm

oh my god…

I read the story and opened the links in the background. I was going to complain to the bbc. I switch to the tab with the bbc story in it and I realise I knew her. Haven’t seen her in years, but we knew each other when I started transition.

how utterly fucked up is it that I find out someone I used to know has died because of the media’s prurient obsession?

she was such a lovely person. she didn’t deserve to die like that. and she didn’t deserve this from the fucking news.

Aimee // Posted 20 October 2009 at 3:02 pm

This is so awful and sad, but I would actually like to express how much I like (as much as one can like a story about murder) the title of this piece. I like how you define the man as ‘cis’, but don’t label the woman as such… it forces you to consider the implications of our ideas about default gender labels. I thought it was really clever. I might start using that kind of tactic… maybe refer to people as ‘cis’ to draw attention to the fact that we almost automatically ‘other’ trans people.

Cazz // Posted 20 October 2009 at 10:23 pm

I was also very saddened by the reporting of this story. The only redeeming qualities were the dignified and very poignant comments made by her parents, and, as you say, to define her purely as a trans woman was to undermine and simplify her as a woman, as would be the case were she defined purely as a disabled woman. The most positive description came from her parents who described her as being a fiercely independent woman, surely more noteworthy as a character description.

Sarah Wilson // Posted 21 October 2009 at 7:55 pm

I feel more scared to be transitioning as a result of the reporting than the prospect of a repeat of this isolated, hateful killing.

And I am grateful to find this emotionally genius-level website. Thank you for making me feel a little less powerless.

Maya Woodit // Posted 23 October 2009 at 2:07 am

Hello, I am a friend of Andrea’s and I would just like to say thankyou, it is so nice to hear nice things about her. To those who do not know Andrea was not a prostitute, she was an escort. There is a marked difference. Also she did not drink, smoke, take drugs and she was highly intelligent and spoke three languages, and was so sweet, good and kind and never had a bad thing to say about anyone. To Sarah Wilson who commented about being scared to go through transition. I am sorry this has scared you. I am sure Andrea would have wanted you to be happy, whatever your decision. God bless Andrea and I wish her peace and relief from pain now on forever more. I love youXXXX

Sarah Wilson // Posted 23 October 2009 at 4:09 pm

Thank you, dear Maya, both for your reassurance and for telling us more about your friend. I would love to have known her. x

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