The Los Angeles Times is on quite the campaign to push social change, as of late. I'm sure that is shocking to you.
Recently I critiqued a “great reads” piece in that publication about a drag queen in New Mexico who wore a dress to his grandmother’s Catholic funeral. Not even a month later, here’s a San Francisco-based piece about a transgender Muslim man.
The general theme of both seems to be that the only truth is that found in human experience, as opposed to religious doctrines and traditions. Journalists simply find a sympathetic character and tell their personal story, which of course runs counter to the beliefs of whatever religion this person holds or used to hold. This person’s life illustrates an evolving, personal truth that is so obvious, dissenting voices are not needed.
To see what I mean, read here:
He walked unsteadily across the tattered green carpet inside the mosque. Out of habit, he stepped for a moment toward the women's section. Then he made his way to the front, where the men pray.
In one sense, everything felt familiar after a childhood spent in Islamic Sunday school every week: the smell of strong cologne worn by so many of the men, the low murmur of Koran recitations.
"Can they tell?" Alex Bergeron recalls asking himself as he knelt for prayer.
The sideways glances were probably innocuous. Just other men taking a fleeting moment to register the newcomer in the room. He mentally scanned his body for any gesture that might betray his secret, realizing that his arms were clenched too tightly around his body as he prayed, that his legs were held too closely together, like a woman.
The men around him didn't know that the young Palestinian American, then 18, was reaching, almost recklessly, for a new life — and reconnecting with an old one.
Continuing on, we learn Alex was born a girl, whose cute hijab-encircled face is shown in one of the photos accompanying the article. He was forced out of his home at the age of 15 for being a lesbian and he has a lesbian grandmother, Jazmine Bergeron.
Alex is sexually attracted to men and women, so has had hormone therapy and breast removal surgery. He also chose a gender-neutral name as part of a new persona as a man. The piece is a bit fuzzy as to how one can go from lesbian to transgender, but the latter is what Alex eventually settled on.
Much of the piece is taken up with his personal story and other than the grandmother, there’s not much in the way of corroborating sources for even the most basic of facts. The only person quoted who is even close to an Islamic expert is one professor at Emory University.
Yes, the article is hard to put down and very entertaining. It is also completely uncritical. In other words, readers need to ask: Is this really journalism?
Why is there no one cited from one of many Islamic organizations in the country nor even a local imam? All schools of thought in Islam consider homosexual acts as immoral and worthy of punishment. But nowhere in this article are the verses in the Quran and the Hadith mentioned that condemn these acts.
Instead near the end, we get a sentence that states, “Alex prays on his own now, studying the Koran to work out what it really seems to say about gender and sexuality.” Really seems to say? It’s not difficult to know what these texts say. Instead, the reader is left with the impression this is a grey area in Islam while it’s definitely not.
Take a peek at the comments section for this story, as there is one person alleging a lot of what the reporter took from Alex on face value is not true.
It’s not the job of GetReligion to re-research someone else’s story, but this brings up some interesting questions. Was the lure of writing about an Islamic Caitlyn Jenner worth running such a thinly sourced story? Just because the lead character is engaging, does that mean we ignore religious doctrine? Did the imam in charge of the unnamed mosque that Alex frequents even know of his presence?
And would this story have happened outside of San Francisco?
Real journalism is asking tough questions of both sides. There was only one side portrayed here and that side got a pass. Sadly, this is becoming normal on issues of this kind.