Dear Fox News: Mrs. Doubtfire Isn’t Trans
Fox News has shown its ignorance yet again when, in a story released on Sunday about trans health care directives in Oregon and California, the only image Fox Nation editors could think to use to illustrate the article was one of the film character Mrs Doubtfire.
When Fox was considering how to cover the fact that health care regulators have, in a quiet move, directed insurance companies in both California and Oregon to ensure they are offering coverage for transition-related health care when it comes to hormone therapy, chest surgery, cancer screenings and any other treatments deemed medically necessary that are already covered for non-trans patients, it could have decided to give a bare recital of the facts, or it could have even gone so far as to note what a positive milestone this is for basic trans healthcare.
Instead, and as you can see in the screen capture, it chose to undercut the story with a cartoonish picture taken from the 1993 family comedy Mrs Doubtfire where comedian and actor Robin Williams donned an elaborate costume and posed as Regina Doubtfire, his character’s Scottish half-sister, all so that he could get close to his kids as the family’s new housekeeper now that he and his wife were divorcing and his access to the children had been severely restricted.
A moment, then, to deal with the title of the piece and its “Insist on Transgender Health Coverage,” as though to imply caring for an often disadvantaged demographic is an undue burden — Fox, you’re barely hiding your prejudice.
And now the picture. At best, it caricatures trans people as masquerading as another gender and casts them in a comedic role, belaying the seriousness of the news story Fox was covering and the important advancement toward equality in medical treatment that the story represents.
Given that the aforementioned medical procedures are often used as steps to treat gender dysphoria, and how the trans community continues to suffer a disproportionate level of poverty that acts as a barrier to them accessing the transition-related care they need, it is twice as disgusting that Fox chose a cheap laugh over serious discussion.
At worst, though, this image draws on the debasing and transphobic “man in a dress” meme that is the go-to for the Religious Right when they wish to demonize trans people in debates like those surrounding access to public accommodations or employment non-discrimination protections.
The image has since been replaced by a bland medical stock photo, but the damage has been done.
Janet Mock, People.com editor and trans rights activist, has spoken out against Fox in rightfully blistering terms.
She is quoted as saying, “I’m in shock that the editors of Fox chose to use a photo of Robin Williams in drag as the illustration of this matter of life and death for trans people. Blurring the line between fictional comical entertainment and the real-life struggles of trans people nationally is dehumanizing and belittling. Beyond being biased, the image is problematic for a number of reasons. Trans people are not wearing a costume. Our lives and struggles are not jokes, and using such an image spreads damaging stereotypes that who we are is put on, entertainment and fictional. It’s those same misconceptions and stereotypes that allow trans people to be discriminated against when it comes to access to housing, employment and healthcare.”
A few things the travesty of a Fox article could have spelled out for its readers regarding the policy change but failed to cover include that this isn’t actually a new directive but rather a clarification of existing nondiscrimination rules to ensure that insurance companies are absolutely clear that they have to cover transition-related care. This is necessary because many insurance plans still broadly exclude transition-related health care as though it were a vanity cosmetic procedure.
Also the regulations, which took effect in September in California and December in Oregon, are not treatment specific — they don’t mandate certain procedures be covered — and they cover different segments of the population and so are not a broad answer for trans citizens requiring assistance, though they do stand to help a significant number. You can find out more about the specifics of this coverage here.