Picture courtesy of sfphotorama.com
Speaking of internet porn…
Transsexuals! They’re the hottest thing since… well, since homosexuality was considered no longer very threatening, perhaps. Corporate entertainment has devoted plenty of time to this increasingly visible segment of the population. A couple nights ago, two TV documentaries were running concurrently on the fat-mom channels (you know, Discovery Health, TLC, etc.); I opted for the one focusing on a couple middle-aged female-to-male trannies who looked straight out of Tom of Finland‘s work. A couple weeks ago, Oprah had on a teenage FTM with a mother so supportive, in another situation her daughter/son would probably have been a Disney Channel star (no mention of the father, interestingly). Documentary films aren’t to be left out; I can think of several new releases at the video store I used to work at off the top of my head (one had the horrible name of “Gendernauts,” although I didn’t ever see it, so maybe it’s actually good — for some reason I doubt it). And they aren’t just a media phenomenon either; they’re throwing their hat into the identity politics ring, demanding to be included in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, even though it’ll inevitably torpedo the bill. Bully for them, I say.
What’s interesting to me is the fascination regarding the transsexuals and the peculiar disavowal that takes place in the media. The TV doc went through all the typical motions, wherein 5 minutes of actual content is stretched to 22, with repeated assertions of the “normality” of transsexuality. They eat, go to work, shave, and have sex, just like normal people. As one of the advocates on the show pointed out, “They’re the people you see every day. They’re lawyers, doctors, university professors…” — I laughed at the last one, as gender diversity certainly is a (often quite pedestrian) growth industry in academia. Yes, this normality is always maintained — notice how the advocate points to professional occupations as proof of their worth. Transsexual advocates typically maintain, in move similar to the gay rights movement, that they were born with their condition — they’ve simply been wired incorrectly, placed in the wrong body. Nothing more to see here. They’re as normal as you or I, QED. Pretty soon they’ll be minor sitcom characters (oh wait, Wikipedia informs me they already are).
This is the part that bothers me. I have no problem with transsexuals, and strongly believe that they should have all the rights and protections that American citizens enjoy, something I shouldn’t even have to say. What gets my goat in the pure disingenuousness at the way the transgendered are presented in the media, as if the whole point is to show you how normal they are. Obviously the wave of tranny media has to do with the fascination, the titillation, the erotic/exotic appeal of this strange other, an effect heightened by showing how “normal” they can appear. But even more insidious is the emphasis on proving how trannies are just regular folk — clearly they aren’t, or there wouldn’t be such a market for shemale porn. Nor should they pretend to be.
This is probably personal bias (I’ve never found regular people very interesting, instead gravitating to weirdos, the socially awkward and maladjusted), but I think has an important political implication as well. The continued pressure in our corporate-media-driven culture is to continually make ourselves over as normal, to fit into certain lifestyle patterns deemed acceptable, to regulate our behavior to assure the smoothest possible social cohesion. The polemical insistence on tranny normality is just a way to incorporate a segment of the population genuinely threatening to the established social hierarchy. Transgendered people throw a lot of cultural assumptions out the window that SHOULD BE thrown out; turning them into happy family-unit-ready regular folks who want to be white collar professionals lets those assumptions in through the back door.
This is what happened to the gays. At one point, homosexuality was threatening, bizarre, and fascinating (it still is to many people, but not the way it once was). Gays were queer — they didn’t add up, they called assumptions into question, they had freaky sex that you couldn’t comprehend and they rubbed your face in it. Now mediated gayness is mostly a matter of physical comportment and lifestyle marketing — gays (at least the well manicured, white collar “regular folks” ones) are a highly coveted group among marketers. Any hint of the weirdness, the queerness, the aspects that threatened official dogma of before are swept under the rug or banished to John Waters movies (Waters has had a long affection for the genuine queers of the working class). While it’s certainly not easy to be gay, it’s really hard to do so without succumbing to the stereotype-turned-demographic vomited forth incessantly by the Logo-Bravo-MTV-Oprah axis. This is why I have a gay friend who says he’s homophobic: he’s not self-hating (in that way at least), but he hates the silly mincing caricature he’s supposed to be. I had an argument with a lesbian colleague in grad school who maintained that gay characters on TV was some sort of progress; I tried to explain that this just puts the powers to define homosexuality in the hands of corporations. “Sometimes it’s powerful to see someone like you on TV, it’s a source of strength,” this short, fat, farm-living, child-raising, no-money-having woman told me. “What makes you think they’re like you?” I responded. They weren’t like her at all — there are no characters like her on TV, because all the lesbians on TV are either fratboy wet dreams or terrorizing bull dykes, and they’ve all got money.
There needs to be a concerted effort to reclaim queerness as a viable political position, and fuck this assimilationist crap. Who wants to assimilate to this fucked, diseased, insane culture anyway? [Full disclosure: I’m a straight white male, and I know I’ve had all the breaks.] The first place to start: drop the biological essentialism. I want to see trannies (and gays for that matter) stand up and say, I chose to be this way. I wasn’t born as a man in a woman’s body; Judy Butler reminds us that you can’t be born a man or a woman at all, it’s something that comes later when we’re taught what those words mean. So say you made a choice. Say you woke up one day and thought you’d do it for a lark. Say you did it for the freaky sex you would have because of it. Yeah, people will be “horrified” by it, but then they’ll go home and whack off over it (plenty of people already do), be bothered by it, maybe even have some of their cherished ideals threatened by it. I think that’s a bigger accomplishment than turning into a bunch of Crate&Barrel commercials. And if GLAAD won’t stand up for you, at least I will. And shit, I’ve got a fucking blog.