Monday, April 5, 2010

Transphobic Panic in the NY Times: Opinion?

No, it's not porn... it's the New York Times

Remember The NY Times, the once distinguished newspaper which has increasingly shown itself to have a rather unprofessional attitude when it comes to trans people? Yes, that one. In a one-month period it had several absurdly amateurish articles in their blog about the controversy over "Ticked Off Trannies With Knives" written by Dave Itzkoff which were little more than huckstering for the film (eg. one of the trans actresses in the film responds to the protests). Itzkoff quoted sources without checking whether there was any validity to their claims (including the assertion that GLAAD supported the film until they issued their "call-to-action"... a claim GLAAD has absolutely denied). Last week, the NY Times reported on the murder of Queens, NY trans woman Amanda Gonzalez-Andujar with a headline which stated "man, 29, found stabbed to death in Queens" even though the first police reports clearly reported the victim was a woman. There was absolutely no mention how Ms. Gonzalez-Andujar lived 24/7 as a woman. The Times later came out with a new article which added a bit of new information about the murder (she was strangled, not knifed as first reported) but was basically a big backtrack as to why they had such an insensitive first article about the crime (note: even the frequently transphobic NY Daily News had a more respectful article out about this story before the Times).

We're entitled to our opinions...
Added to these incidents comes the New York Times' latest jab at the trans community on its Opinion page (as first mentioned by Helen Boyd in her blog En/Gender) It concerns a slide show of a photo essay by photographer Alec Soth about New Orleans on Ash Wednesday after this year's Mardi Gras celebration. Noticeable in the photos are several transgender people, presumably for the usual freak window dressing filmmakers and photographers so relish. It translates to... wow, this Mardi Gras was kinky and crazy... there were trannies! Really!

Most of the slide show depicts a messy city with a few remaining revelers left on the empty, littered streets. He then has a Diane Arbus-like series of portraits of people from New Orleans who've attended Ash Wednesday services with the characteristic ash mark on their foreheads. One is a picture of a what certainly appears to be a young Latina.

Later, he talks about going to the casino and running into one of this photo subjects... the young Latina. Does he ask her about her life, is she a native of New Orleans, what Ash Wednesday means to her, how she was affected by the floods? There were many possible questions.

Fancy meeting you here. Aren't you worried
you'll get picked up by some kind of... pervert?

Instead, he next has a title card about how he invited her to his hotel room to photograph her.

No, I didn't ask her how old she was, why?

Needless to say, she looks young. I don't know what age you need to be to go into the casino, but she still looks like a teenager. She's next shown sprawled on his hotel room bed being photographed. No mention is made of how old she is, why he has to photograph her in his hotel room and not against the backdrop of New Orleans (supposedly the city on which he's doing his photo essay) much less why she's lying on his bed.

Lie still and think about appearing in
the New York Times Opinion page.

Ever the artiste
He snaps a few photos of her on his bed while she looks mostly bored and passive. Let's see, for a professional photographer, taking photos of a young woman lying on his bed in his hotel room is pretty much the closest metaphor he can get to having sex without actually disrobing.

He then has a title card which kind of says it all:

"R. was a man. Ewww, why did I lure HIM to my hotel room?"

Now, this isn't a case of meeting someone and not knowing their gender. He spoke with her, she has breasts, I assume she had a female name beginning with the letter R... this was no mistake. Yet, as Helen Boyd commented, Alec Soth's title card said "(Not even used to be a man but) was a man." Boyd then very rightfully remarks, "I think the punchline is supposed to be along the lines of even this nice Catholic girl with ashes on her forehead is really one them sinful transsexuals. Wow. What a hipster this guy is."

And you included this because...?
Was Soth's point, this is a city of evil and illusions and nothing is what it seems and all is temptation? Was it "I got this stupid girl to come back to my hotel to photograph her (aka, see my etchings), was planning to fuck her and... whaaaa, she's a dude! OH MAN! What a crazy fucking city!" Or, more likely, was it "creeper, narcissistic photographer (see my previous entry on artist Charlie White who also relishes his sleazy peeping tom artist persona) lures young trans girl to his apartment and exposes her as the man she really is? Ex-frat boy office workers love that kind kinky sex tourism.

The late Angie Zapata

What makes this all doubly creepy is that the trans girl has a slight resemblance to 2008 trans girl murder victim Angie Zapata. You want to take "R." by the hand and say, honey, do not go into the hotel rooms of strangers, even if they claim they're doing photo essays for the New York Times. And, of course, he had no idea she was trans before he took her to his room. He was tricked, he thought he was getting a real teenage girl to come to his hotel room to be photographed on his bed and, instead, was shocked to find out she was A MAN. Sounds curiously like convicted murderer Alan Andrade's claim he didn't know Angie Zapata was trans until after she gave him oral sex even though he had gone to the DMV with her earlier in the day and heard them call her by her male birth name. Or Gwen Araujo's murderers who claimed they didn't know "she was a guy" until a woman told them at the party even though Gwen hadn't even started hormones, has been described as having a not-especially passable voice and was well known at some of the murderers' high school (where their younger siblings still attended) for cross-dressing.

All the news that's fit to print
So, the final lasting image of his slide show on New Orleans is this young trans girl lying bored on Soth's hotel bed having been outed as "a man." What Soth doesn't mention is what they did after the photo session and how he treated her after whatever they did was finished? He leaves those details for the imagined titillation of their readers so they can confirm what a risky livin' wild man he is.

So, New York Times, exactly what is the opinion you're sharing with us? New Orleans, city of shattered illusions? New Orleans shouldn't be salvaged because there are trannies running loose trying to fool guys? Or we hire sleezeballs and why would a once-esteemed newspaper feature something as bigoted and tawdry as this?

I'm Alec Soth, photographer, also a man
and possible sexual predator


  1. Uh - shouldn't the background of that pic indicate his height?

    Perhaps he'd be willing to come up to a hotel room with some trans women photogs & pose on the bed for us?

  2. Kathy, I think a ruler would be more appropriate for what he has on his mind. The idea of photographing him would be lovely except that, by his age standards, he's waaay past his expiration date.


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