20 Dec 2018

Sex change is not a joke

A few weeks ago, online tabloids in Serbia were filled with headlines about  the “shocking announcement” of a local singer’s “sex change”.  

Tijana Cvjeticanin
Tijana Cvjeticanin Istinomjer, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Sex change is not a joke - NewsMavens
Milena Ćeranić, YouTube


The headline first appeared in the notorious Serbian tabloid “Kurir”, announcing:

This singer had a sex change, when you see her you won't recognize her

It was quickly picked up by other similar portals, such as Glossy, Adria Media, Smedia, Estrada and others. Some offered their own twist on the wording:

OUR FAMOUS SINGER HAS CHANGED SEX You’ve been listening and watching her for years! When you see her you won’t recognize her (Alo

THE SINGER SHOCKS: One of the prettiest Grand’s singers CHANGED SEX and THIS is what she looks like in a MAN’S role (VIDEO) (Srbija danas)

OUR FAMOUS SINGER HAS CHANGED SEX: When you see what she looks like as a MAN you’ll die laughing (Espreso)  

But other than tabloids and anonymous portals, no other media published the news of a celebrity undergoing a sex reassignment surgery, as would be expected. And there was a good reason for that.


The whole thing was a non-story and it reveals itself as such right after you click on the sensationalist headline. While some did try to play the clickbait out a little longer with subtitles like “Exposed!”, most got straight to the point in the “article”:

What a hunk!

Milena Ćeranić shared a video on her Instagram, bringing tears of laughter to all her followers. The singer played with a filter which made her into a man and for a moment shocked her audience on this social network. Milena appeared on her 'Instagram story' with a beard and commented in a deep voice and with a smile 'Woah, man, what a stud I’d be'. However in her very next post she explained that it was a joke and showed how pretty she looks without a trace of make up.

A similar stunt was pulled a few years ago, when Croatian singer Nives Celsius published a photo of herself dressed as Zvonko Bogdan, a famous (male) singer. The headlines were almost identical:


Using “sex change” as burlesque clickbait which actually “reports” a meaningless social media post from a local entertainer may seem insignificant, but it’s a symptom of a bigger problem. It reflects a broader attitude about transgender and transsexual identities, which makes them into a spectacle and portrays them as someone to be laughed at and ridiculed.  

“At first it seems ha-ha funny, but what lies under that “humor” is transphobia and homophobia. The sensationalism, the ridicule, that’s what they also do when they write about real transgender people”, Liam Isić, a transgender activist from Sarajevo (Bosnia), told us when asked to comment on these headlines. 

Similar remarks were made in an article published in August on “Trans Serbia”, the website of a transgender-rights organization from Serbia. While several of the people interviewed for the article agreed that the situation has improved -- there’s less open hatred or calls for violence against trans* people -- they also point out to the same problems as Isić:

“Sensationalism" is the word which repeats in answers of the people we talked to, when we asked them how they see the media reporting on trans* people.

What bothers me the most is that the essence of problems and lives of trans* people is not tackled; it’s written about with ridicule instead. There is no substance, they just go for the most provocative headline -- says Helena Vuković, known to the public as the first trans woman major in the Serbian army.”


The media who jumped at opportunity to “milk” some clicks from a few seconds long Instagram video, clearly used the mention of sex change as clickbait. And they did so at the expense of respectful representation of trans* people and their identities, which is why we rate this as a display of intersectional discrimination


Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

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