5 Things Media Got Wrong in Stories About R. Kelly’s Transgender Son

Coverage of Kelly’s son Jay coming out as trans has been filled with ignorant mischaracterizations.

Jay Kelly. (Photo: Instagram)

Jun 10, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Solvej Schou writes regularly for TakePart, and has also contributed to the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, BBC.com, and Entertainment Weekly.

Jay Kelly is like any other teenager. He smiles broadly in selfies posted on Instagram; he plays the ukulele, loves indie music and science, and wears cool sweatshirts.

He also happens to be the youngest son of raunchy R&B singer R. Kelly and his ex-wife, VH1 Hollywood Exes reality star Andrea Kelly. And he’s newly out as transgender, sparking a frenzy of media coverage. He recently changed his Instagram profile description to “Jay, transguy, ukelele.”

Not all media coverage, though, has been positive or even correct in writing about the almost 14-year-old. While this may feel like a tricky area, blogs were rife with common mischaracterizations, from Jay being called Kelly’s “daughter” to trans identity referred to as a “condition.” That’s led to outcry from the trans community.

For starters, here are five ways media got it wrong:

1. His Name, His Pronoun—His Call

Websites including NaturallyMoi.com, described as a site for women of color, and the culture hub SandraRose.com consistently referred to Jay in their stories as “she,” “her” and “Jaya,” his birth name. According to NaturallyMoi.com, “Jaya has reportedly decided that she just wants to be known as Jay. The child also doesn’t want to be pretty anymore, she would prefer to be handsome.”

As Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality and a transgender-identified woman and parent, points out, “When you call a trans boy a girl, we’re going to call you out on it. It maintains a notion that trans people are something other than who they are.”

2. Don’t Call Him “Daughter”

The same goes for constantly referring to Jay in headlines as R. Kelly’s daughter. From SandraRose.com’s headline “One of R. Kelly’s daughters is a ‘Transguy’” to the New Pittsburgh Courier’s headline “R. Kelly’s daughter comes out as transgender boy,” the characterization of Jay as a daughter completely ignores his own male identification.

According to his page on Ask.fm, an online forum where users answer questions posed to them anonymously, Jay has identified as a boy since he was “6 or 7.” He also cites support from his mom and says, “i am transgender and im proud of it.”

3. It’s Not an Ailment or a Choice

False stereotypes about transgender identity as a mental illness have been rampant for a long time. SandraRose.com’s blog actually claims that Jay “follows in the footsteps of other celebrity kids who suffer from gender disorders.”

In 2012, the American Psychiatric Association approved changes to its latest version of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to remove the term “Gender Identity Disorder,” which had been used by the mental health community for decades to characterize transgender people. Actual doctors are saying it’s not a disorder.

4. Privates Are Private

Jay has said on his Ask.fm page that he would eventually like to have surgery and go on medication “to help me be who i was supposed to be.” The same websites referring to Jay as “Jaya” have quickly brought up the issue of sex reassignment surgery in their coverage of the teen, without thought to his age or privacy.

“The focus on what sort of medical history anybody has is inappropriate,” Keisling says. “One of the first questions asked when writing about trans people is if they’ve had surgery. That’s nobody’s business. It’s just one part of being trans.”

5. Alleged Neglect Didn't “Cause” His Identity

Sites have also claimed Jay’s transgender identity is related to his father not being involved in his life, which Jay has been open about, or his mom recently remarrying and divorcing quickly.

The bogus idea of people being transgender because of coming from perceived “unstable” households offends Keisling.

“How dare they ask about the family structure of a 14-year-old they don’t even know?” she says. “It’s really hard in general to be a 14-year-old in the United States. There’s no law that says bloggers have any idea what they’re talking about. They’re going back to the same old nonsense.”