Time and again, I am stuck by the divide between the actuality of transgender lives and the depictions of transgender lives in the media. There is a remarkable gulf between our own dialogues and those presented in popular media.
The tabloids on the market shelf—in between stores of some reality television stars breaking up and memorials to recently perished celebrities—are heavily covering the transition of Chaz Bono, the offspring of Sonny Bono and Cher.It is certainly newsworthy for these rags to cover—but most have a hard time acknowledging his transition.
“Shattered Cher broke down in tears over daughter Chastity’s bombshell decision to undergo a sex change, The ENQUIRER has learned exclusively,” said the National Enquirer. “The 40-year-old lesbian activist—now known as Chaz—is taking hormone shots and is on her way to becoming a male—with facial hair, muscle mass and other manly characteristics, say insiders.”
Meanwhile, two recent ads—one local and one national—focus on transgender people as deceptive masqueraders at best.
A television advertisement in the Los Angeles area includes a young couple, supposedly newlyweds on their way to their honeymoon, when the bride needs a pit stop. Her new husband catcher her standing to urinate in the read view mirror. He then puts the car in gear and take off, leaving her by the side of the road.
Another television ad for Boost Mobile featuring race car driver Danica Patrick has her pit crew wearing heels and miniskirts while servicing her car. A second version involves her signing male fan’s “moobs.” While Patrick does say in the ad that this is not “wrong”—which ties into Boost’s marketing theme—the “behind the scenes” video produced by the makers of the advertisement talks about this as funny, as “edgy,” and notes that some of the pit crew seemed to be enjoying themselves “too much.”
Finally, there is an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent that aired last week. This episode was practically a throwback to the 1970s—or at least to The Silence of the Lambs—featuring a homicidal cross-dresser whose gender presentation had nothing to do with the story other than add sensationalism to the story.
New media, too, has had its share of transphobic material. A weblog called “Tranny Alert” launched recently, suggesting that people send in photos when they spot transgender people in their neighborhood. Included on these pages were explanations that a “Tranny” is someone who is male but appears female, while a “reverse tranny” is a female who appears male. In response to outreach about the nature of their content, and the fact that it could cause people to target transgender people, the site owner posted to Twitter, “Wow people really need to get a [expletive] sense of humor. Humor nor not, their service provider removed their website.
Add to this the recently furor at radio station KRXQ over transphobic comments—including advocating violence towards transgender youth—from hosts Rob Williams and Arnie States, and this paints a bleak picture of the media.
We deserve to be abandoned, physically hurt, publicly mocked. We might be crazed serial killers. We’re deceiving. We’re masquerading. We are really our birth gender.
For those of us who are transgender, we don’t come to such a decision lightly. We are well aware of what we might face in the world—but we are hardly masquerading. Indeed, a large number of us are simply making visible what we have felt for most of our lives. It is not deception to show what we truly are. Our gender identity or personal gender expression is not a masquerade—it is the way we choose to show ourselves to the world.
This is what we don’t typically see in the media. Instead we get to see the same tired messages further reinforced. We get to hear that we deserve to have our trans-ness beaten out of us by radio personalities. The advertisements and websites openly mock us, and seem to indicate that we should be abandoned by those who might of loved us. We’re taught that being transgender is to be deceitful, even crazy, and that whatever we are, we’ll still be the “daughter” or “son” that we once were.
Those who are not transgender see these messages too, and can believe that they too are supported by the masses if they choose to hard transgender people. Even those who claim to “love” us—such as the webmaster of Tranny Alert—are still allowed to mock our appearance, call us out in public, and put our lives at risk.
Of course, telling our real stories isn’t nearly as interesting to the media. Their whole point is to sensationalize, and—to be quite honest—our lives are not always that notable in the broad contest. Transgender people have regularly transitioned since the turn of last century, and have even had viable surgical options for those who desire such since the 1930s and 1940s. It should really be old hat by this time, and is unless you seek to make it something else.
Maybe this is the problem, too. Without those real examples—shown in a positive light—all that ends up aired continues this tired idea of “transgender is deception.” With no one countering it in the mass media, the idea we should be beaten and abandoned remains.
Is this what our society should teach?
Gwen Smith dose not use, view, read, or endorse any of the above media outlets or products—for obvious reasons. You can find her on the web at www.gwensmith.com.