As a journalist who once worked for Associated Kent Newspapers, once rival publishers to the Kent Messenger Group, I would like to comment on the scandal around my former rival’s somewhat insensitive treatment of transgender issues.
True, as a white, middle-class heterosexual male from Kent, I would not under normal circumstances have any more right to speak about transgender issues than the Kentish Gazette reporter who wrote about the “dismal world of identity politics“. However, after leaving the UK, I ended up in Central Europe working as a foreign correspondent when a story appeared about a German schoolgirl.
Kim Petras, then aged 13 and born male, had revealed on a German current affairs programme that since she had been two years old she had realised she was a girl. She was demanding the right to be treated as a girl.
After the German programme appeared, the family were bombarded with further requests from the media all over the world, and her father Lutz, who was attempting to deal with the offers, was overwhelmed. I had several conversations with him, but the breakthrough came when I offered to help him deal with the media, and to become her manager.
When I met Kim it was clear without a shadow of a doubt that she was a girl. With her long blonde hair she had been giggling and laughing with two school girlfriends when we collected her from school, and once back at the family home she had offered to make me a cup of tea.
I was sitting with her father when we heard a scream for the kitchen, and when we ran through she was standing on a bar stool screaming as a tiny mouse ran around on the floor.
Stereotypically female maybe, but from that point on I never thought of Kim as anything other than the girl she always was.
I stayed the weekend, and took over her management from that point on. Although it never made me any money over the years, being the manager of a fledgling popstar was certainly different and a lot of fun. And I met many people in the transgender community including one who has become my closest friend.
Many told me about their incredible stories, some had self-published books which they passed on to me, and I learned about the enormous variety and complications of being transgender. There are not just females in a male body or males in a female body, there are in fact dozens of ways which the brain is quite simply wired differently to what is regarded as the ‘norm’.
But despite all that, I would defend the right of the Kent Messenger reporter behind the article to write his ill-advised and insensitive article without punishment because it is only by airing views like this that they can be challenged, and explained. If everybody hides everything under the carpet, where is the dialogue?
Reporters should enjoy freedom of speech even when it contains elements that are clearly at odds with the values of a healthy society, as it encourages debate and ultimately understanding.
For my part I had my education in working with Kim, who was truly an inspiration and who I hope now that she is living the dream in Hollywood as a singer will be an inspiration for many other transgender people, just as she was for me.
Now 25, hers is an incredible story of bravery and determination, where a remarkably talented and self-assured girl convinced the entire establishment of her country that she had a right to determine her gender even before she was a teenager. She changed Germany, and maybe now she is a pop icon she will change the world.
I have never met Alex Claridge who is supposed to have written the KM article, but if he was behind the report he should not lose his job, and nor should his editor. If they were responsible for what was written, and they had the chance to meet someone like Kim, I am sure they would, like me, already be arguing the opposite.