Saturday, February 27, 2010

Headline: 'Transsexual Man' does not mean FTM!

Did you know "transsexual man" actually means someone who, very likely, wants boobs and not someone who wants to rid themselves of their mammary glands? Well, it's true. If you look at most media having to do with murders and sexual assaults in the trans community, the victim is virtually always "a transsexual man." The curious part is, said "man" will be living and presenting as a woman and is attacked in the way women are usually attacked. This fascinating contradiction has sadly raised its ugly head once again in San Antonio on February 25, 2010, where a police officer, Craig Nash, has been charged with handcuffing and repeatedly sexually assaulting a "transsexual man" he had arrested for prostitution. No, as usual, there is no indication as to whether the victim actually was a prostitute or the officer just assumed she was. As stated by reporter Kristina De Leon of station WOAI News (and repeated verbatim by virtually every other news outlet in San Antonio):
‛‛The complainant, who authorities say is a prostitute, told police that Nash handcuffed him in the back of a marked patrol car before taking the him to an unknown location and forcing him to engage in multiple sexual acts, the affidavit states. Nash reportedly was wearing his police uniform at the time.”

Presto chango—Gender Swappo!
I went ahead and contacted several of the newsrooms which initially reported the story and they confirmed, yes, the victim was a "man dressed as a woman" (aka a transgender woman). But it doesn't stop there, because now, as it's often happened in past, many LGBT media outlets will start to mis-identify the victim as being an FTM based on the "transsexual man" reference. The first instance I've already found with this case is "Project Q" in Atlanta, who picked up the story and 'clarified' how the unnamed victim is an FTM. Yes, in the name of being accurate, the literal identity of the victim is twisted again into that of a trans man. This switch-a-roo has happened in a number of cases in the past several years. LGBT blogs and media sees "transsexual man" and instantly translates that into a FTM victim.

I also recently saw this in the case of a hearing-impaired trans woman who had gone to Trinidad, Co to have a SRS consult with Marci Bowers, but ended up being attacked and sexually assaulted by a stranger who had followed her from another town. The victim in the incident was initially reported by a Pueblo newspaper as being a "transgender man." Within hours of the story appearing on the Internet, several LGBT blogs covered the attack of a transman being attacked in Trinidad. The Trinidad police (who were very closed lipped about the story, perhaps not wanting it to influence a key business in the town) were unforthcoming about details. Several days later it was confirmed by the Trinidad Chief of Police that the victim was, indeed, a transwoman.

Which proves...
This reached bizarre proportions several months ago when I was on a blog discussing the issue how, in fact, there have been virtually no media reports of FTMs being sexually assaulted since the Brandon Teena case (which, of course, doesn't mean that such assaults haven't occurred, just that they haven't been reported by media). The person I was discussing the issue with brought up two other cases of recent sexual assault against FTMs reported in Queer media. After a little checking, I realized she was actually referring to two cases of transwomen being raped but it being misreported as a "transsexual or transgender man." Again, well-intentioned media sources did the translation to FTM without even thinking about a possible initial dis-gendering.

Just to clarify for those reading this... when you read about a "transsexual man" being sexually assaulted/murdered somewhere in the United States, first assume that victim is, in fact, a transwoman. Check the original sources and, certainly try to actually verify the gender identity/expression of the victim.

One other question I must ask, though, is why LGBT/Queer media sources are so lazy about this issue and why so many repeated mistakes like this have occurred? I do believe that some of it is a fatigue about transwoman being attacked and wanting to assign some of that to other groups for political reasons. In cases like the Lopez Mercado murder in Puerto Rico, where the victim was presenting as female at the time of the murder, it was widely reported as the murder of a gay man, not the murder of someone clearly presenting as a woman. Yet the gay media and many activist organizations seemed to have a huge vested interest in presenting that incident as a crime against gay males and not gender variant people.

We want what we want when we want it-
Similarly, I've observed a large number of Queer activists, transmasculine people and a few FTMs who've twisted some of the statistics having to do with the Transgender Day of Remembrance to make it sound as if transmen are also regular targets of these murders. I've heard several "readings of the victim's names" where Brandon Teena (and, in fairness, Gwen Araujo) was suddenly invoked along with the current year's list of dead trans women. Why? Because they'd heard about those cases and hadn't heard about the many trans women in Turkey and Central America who are murdered every year? Because the usual yearly list of murdered young African-American transwomen didn't meet their requirements?

In search of the FTM victim
Just because murders and violence against FTMs aren't reported (and it's not surprising trans men might have a lot of issues about reporting sexual assaults against them to the police) doesn't mean they aren't happening. I suspect they are, I just can't verify that because it hasn't been included in statistics nor covered in the media. Bare in mind a lot of the reason for the initial interest in the Brandon Teena case was because he was (and unfortunately still is in some circles) identified as a butch woman. There was one reported murder of a trans man in 2009, but it was by the trans man's longtime partner—not by a casual acquaintance or stranger. Another murder of a trans man in Chile 5 years ago was perpetrated by the victim's father. One of the few reported acts of violence against a trans man in the past year was committed by a group of women (and one male friend) at a Washington DC gay club during a 'Dyke Night' which the trans men had attended. Much of the Queer press was curiously quiet about this incident and some of the community tensions it may have represented.

White victims needed
Something similar could also be said for white trans women appropriating the murders of trans women of color to prove their own oppression. Yes, there are some white victims, like Andrea Waddell in England, and there can be little question her murder was covered by a wider range of media outlets (and more respectfully) because she was white and college-educated. In a bizarre twist, a fabricated murder of a young, white transwoman (who was supposedly a regular on the Laura's Playground transform website) was immediately flash-disseminated, reported, and lamented while real murders against transwomen of color went ignored or under-reported.

My heart goes out to the currently unnamed victim in San Antonio who had the fortitude to report the rape shortly after she was released by her policeman rapist. She did this knowing the possible repercussions by the police department (as may have happened in the Duanna Johnson execution in Memphis). That, very likely, the media would strip her of her womanhood and, perhaps, even blame her because she'd be ID'd as a hooker. I have little patience for Queer/LGBT media outlets which re-gender people both out of not checking their sources and because they're looking for the "right" victim to further their cause. There are no right or wrong victims... just those whose lives and personhood were unfairly taken from them.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Chosen

A recent article in the SF Bay Times (a local GLBT rag) caught my eye about a ftm/queer spoken word performer, Gabriel Burke (AKA Trashcanpoet), who did a performance piece about how Chaz Bono "should shut up and not presume to speak for underprivileged and less-than-famous transgenders." While I suspect this was, like many performance pieces, meant to force people to challenge their assumptions, it reminded me of feelings I've had throughout the years about who media decides is a "spokesperson" for the trans community.

Chaz Bono, by virtue of being an A-list celebrity spawn, C-list celeb, and well known Olivia cruise ship passenger/HRC fundraiser figure in the LG community, is our newest entertainment figurehead. Larry King talking about trans stuff... get Chaz. Entertainment Tonight doing something about trans... Chaz is so there. TMZ mentioning something trans-related... go Chaz. Before Chaz it was Alexis Arquette and Candis Cayne and Christine Penner (RIP) and Susan Stanton and Amanda LePore.

Rather than actually get someone with tight community connections, a background in trans activism, or a long-time transitioner to give perspective about how trans people actually fit into society, we can get a C-List celeb who's newly transitioning, or someone who commercially trades on their transness (eg. drag scene) to provide 10 second media clips. As with all media depictions, it's so important to realize how media crowns its spokepersons for highly specific reasons.

Pick your team
Spokespersons mostly much fall into four categories: 1) the aforementioned minor-celeb transitioner (Chaz/Alexis Arquette); 2) the current "going through hell aren't you glad you're not me" middle-aged transitioner (Penner/Stanton); 3) the freaky-deaky shemale/draggy/silicone-bootay transsexual/transgender—used as nouns (LaPore, any Transtasia contestants) 4) the passable, educated, "you actually look like a normal person!!!" transitioner (white, academic middle class people... (most FTMs fall into this group, although Buck Angel is the lone FTM with his feet in both groups #3 and #4). Btw, trans people of color, and working class trans people, read the 'rules,' don't expect to be assigned to any category other than #4

In fairness to the Chaz Bonos, Susan Stantons and Christine Penners, it takes fortitude to transition in public and appear in front of millions at such a vulnerable and destabilizing time in ones' life. It's understandable to hear someone declare 'rather than having others interpreting my life's events, I'd rather try and speak for myself and my community.' Unfortunately, these three know all too well how media uses spokespersons to basically deliver its own message. All is filtered through the framing of the spokesperson's story, editing, background music and the ever present "comments" given by news-anchors & bloggers after the quote.

Wanna appear on Oprah or Tyra... fine, but you'll soon find out you have zero control as to how they present you, on the editing of the material, future rights to the material (especially with Oprah, who has a vicious team of lawyers second only to Disney or McDonald's) and, no matter what you think you're doing, you will be presenting their agenda. Period. If you appear on Larry King, Larry will be asking you stupid, ill-informed questions, repeating questions about things you've already answered, mis-interpreting what you've just clearly stated and pretty much be certain to inadvertently insult you at some point in the interview. Larry ain't exactly Einstein. Even when, a few years ago, Larry had a well-spoken trans woman named Jessica Lam on his show, he managed to have a shot of her in her bra just to liven up the festivities. *sigh* Larry, Larry, Larry.

Ouch, ouch, ouch
A problem comes when some of these "spokesmodels" open their yaps and very ugly stuff has been known to spew out. Few in the trans community can forget the cringe-inducing comments newbie Susan Stanton made about how she's not like the ridiculous "men in dresses" who think they're women. Or when Candis Cayne sat on The View and declared, "transgender and transsexual are the exact same thing." Or as Amanda LaPore recently stated to a Sydney, Australia newspaper, "When I grew up, transsexuals really just wanted to get married and blend in and fool guys." Then, of course, there's gay, male-identified RuPaul, who is always ready to be a spokesman for trans women as when he defended a Dallas Gay newspaper's use of the word "tranny." Really, thanks Ru?! And kisses to all our spokespersons for those thoughtful and well-considered statements.

The message is in the medium
So in terms of media agenda, what are all these spokespersons here to prove? Chaz Bono proves everything is okay with transpeople, and transitioning means wearing an expensive suit and walking with your wife down Rodeo Drive, dealing with Paparazzi and going to fundraisers. No problems, no trans youth being attacked in school, no health care problems, no job discrimination, no trans women of color being murdered... just a good time for all and everybody gets that Chaz thinks he's now a man and we all support him. It's the 'good newz' transition.

The media message of Susan Stanton and Christine Penner was, "see how screwed up middle-aged men can be. Look how a mid-life crisis can mess you up not to mention your wives and children. Everyone... behave or this hell could happen to you." All the hoochy-mama transsexual spokesladaays are there to confirm how transwomen are fake, really-truly gay men/drag queens, their ideas about womenhood are obviously absurd and they're doing this just to get fucked by guys who are creepy enough to like them. It's good tv.

Cute sells
Another category of spokesperson increasingly appearing on media are transgender children. Of course, understanding their issues and how families are supporting them is a crucial goal for the future of our community. They need all the understanding, support and care all of our community can provide. They are cute, not 'wrongly-misgendered' looking and, most importantly, break through a lot of media's need to try and sexualize trans women. Moreover, they also reiterate that, for most trans people, their transitions are related to lifelong gender identities and not adult lifestyle choices.

Jerry's Kids?
I do have concerns trans children may, in future, be used by media/fundraisers as the new versions of Jerry's Kids. You may recall how many adults with Muscular Dystrophy complained how the MDA Telethons only paraded children in front of the camera because adults with MD were "too disabled looking" and therefore, more threatening to the audience. That children on telethons gave a feel good message which ignored many of the realities of living as a disabled adult. As has often been in the past, 'attractive looking, gender normative people' (which these children usually represent) may become the primary spokespersons for the binary trans experience (and GQ/CD/GV people aren't even mentioned).

The 'M' Factor
In fairness, there is one very important spokesperson I've left out and by sheer number of interviews and media quotes alone, she's in a class by herself. Mara Keisling is the dowager tsarina of media trans spokespeople. Ready to speak on any gender-related issue even if it has little to do with her brand of Washington "advocacy." Every time a respectable trans spokesperson is desired, they haul out Mara, the leader of the 'T in the LGBT'. And what do you get for your two minutes of Mara... transgender, blah, blah, blah, coalitions, blah, blah, blah, Washington Insider, blah, blah, works well with others, blah, blah, blah. Ultimately, I don't blame Ms. Keisling for her media appearances. She's invited, she goes, and she does whatever the hell it is she does. Fair enough. What I do blame is unimaginative, uninformed, and highly restrictive media who are unable to conceive of anyone better to represent trans activism.

Buttoned-down Gay media types appreciate calm, professional Mara because she never says anything controversial, is ever so careful and highly solicitous not to step on any of her betters' toes. She's our designated collaborationist leader. It's all delivered in a monotone, non-threatening delivery easy to zone out on. She combines just the right amount of category #4 (white, educated, not too scary) with a dollop of category #2 (middle-aged "once-male person" who fills media's trans quota but affirms business-as-usual). She's the equivalent of the "well-spoken negro" celebs/spokespeople who were paraded on tv during the 60s-70s because, heaven forfend, any radicals or angry black people should make the desirable white viewers nervous. Mainstream and gay media is allowed to determine who is a trans leader and who isn't. Nice how that works, huh?

It's a free country, but advertising costs $$$
As previously mentioned in the performance by Gabriel Burke, our community spokespeople would do best to understand how they're being used by media and to respond accordingly. Burke stated, "Bono was warned that interviewers are patronizing him and treating him as a curiosity." Very true. Moreover, no matter what prompting they receive to the contrary, Bono and others owe it to emphasize their story is just their story and not representative of the wide range in the community. It's flattering to be on tv, interviewed or invited to events, but don't pretend you can control the message ultimately put out by cisgender media. Being a visible token is nowhere near the same as letting all corners of our community truly speak for themselves about their own experiences.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

'Be Like Others' : Iran's transsexual population as a weapon of misinformation.

According to "Be Like Others" these are both men

"Be Like Others" is an award-winning film by Jewish Iranian/American director Tanaz Eshaghian. It is nominated for this year's GLAAD Media Award and has been acclaimed for showing an unusual part of Iranian life—how transsexual SRS is actually normalized in that country, and even partially subsidized. What the film also purports to show is how gay men are forced into identifying as trans women and bullied into getting SRS in an attempt to live hetero-normative lives. As the website for the film states:

Highly feminine and attracted to members of the same sex, yet forced to live in secret for fear of retribution, a generation of young Iranian men are adopting an identity legally allowed to them—transsexual. In pursuit of what one man calls simply, "a decent life," they flock to the country's best-established gender reassignment surgeon.

The truism this film purports to tell has also been repeated by many Queer-identified activists as a sign how being gay, lesbian or Queer is less accepted than living as a "straight" trans person (despite the fact that straight-identified transwomen of color have the highest murder rate in the US). It came up again when the controversy over Catherine Crouch's film "The Gendercator" erupted when it was cut from the Frameline film festival after many trans people complained about its characterization of transmasculine people in the future being "forced" into transition by a society which wanted to cure their queerness. 'Be Like Others' was frequently mentioned by bloggers and supporters of the film how this was actually already happening in Iran. Some parts of the lesbian community have long been upset young butches were somehow leaving womynhood and transitioning FTM to gain hetero-normativity and privilege. Gay leaders from the 70s-90s like Jim Fouratt often repeated the theory that trans women are really gay men who are ashamed and afraid of their gayness. All of these highly flawed conclusions are repeated in "Be Like Others."

When 'Be Like Others' came out, many Queer media outlets as well as a large number of newspapers and mainstream magazines like Marie Claire (in their recent January issue) featured the film and the bizarre conundrum it presented. Yes, Iran tolerates SRS, but it's being used as a form of "queer cleansing" to eradicate the gay population. It's a powerful and frightening message. Unfortunately, it's also a gross exaggeration and misrepresentation of the truth.

Director Tanaz Eshaghian

A film created out of ignorance
To put the film in context, Eshaghian admits she had zero experience with the gay or trans communities when she made the film. She continues to call all MTF transitioners "men", whether they fall into the category of gay-male identified or not. She has little understanding of how trans people identify in different cultures. How, in fact, in many cultures, the term "gay" is used to refer to trans women. In Thailand, the term "kathoey" actually means "a feminine man" as opposed to "sao praphet song" which translates as "second type woman"... with a totally female identity. Yet kathoey and even 'ladyboy' are regularly used in media and by outsiders to refer to trans women in that country. Many people in African-American culture refer to trans people as "gay" even though there is an understanding a gay man is not the same as an assigned-male-bodied person who lives as a woman. Eshaghian shows no sign she actually explored any complex issues of identity before making her film.

Nor does she show any signs of really studying the extremely diverse transgender and gender variant communities to understand how identities can often get confused by outsiders. Moreover, she clearly didn't examine how the term "transsexual" is often applied in many cultures to people who are drag performers, female impersonators and people who live socially as women but have no interest in medical transition. This is a film which was created by someone who really knew little about the specific community she was documenting (which would be an instant D- in Documentary Film 101). She admits she mostly relied on a queer rights organization in Iran called "The Iranian Free Railroad or Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees" (formerly known as "Rainbow"). It was from the director of this organization, Arsham Parsi, Eshaghian was told about gay men being forced to be turned into straight women. In fact, Parsi has had much to do with spreading this version of the story throughout world media. Does he have statistics and first person narratives to back up his claims... well, no, not really.

Supported by Islam and the government? Really?
Eshaghian suggests, but doesn't say explicitly, the main Muslim clerics in Iran are in favor of giving SRS to gay men. In point of fact, while Ayatollah Khomeini wrote as early as 1963 (when he was still in exile) that there is nothing in Islam against transsexual or Intersex-related surgeries, it was through the brave lobbying efforts of Maryam Hatoon Molkara, an Iranian trans woman, that the full fatwa in favor of SRS was given in the late 1970s. At no point did Khomeini suggest it was a way of pressuring gay men towards hetero-normativity. At no point has the Iranian government ever supported, suggested nor demanded gay men receive SRS, and Ali Hoseyni Khāmenei (the current Iranian supreme religious leader) has never been in favor of doing that. It's only been a number of lesser clerics who have suggested this as a way of dealing with gay men and not governmental or Shia Islamic policy. Not so very different from hearing something Focus on the Family says, and interpreting that as US governmental policy. While this misinterpretation isn't totally the fault of the film, it is regularly repeated in article after article about the film without clarification.

In Eshaghian's rush to film 'Be Like Others' she never bothered to compile any clear statistics from the SRS doctors she films which might confirm how often these 'forced-SRSs' occur. Basically, the film presents one person who is facing getting SRS who clearly identifies as A gay male and one other person who got SRS pretty much in an attempt to keep her boyfriend. While they felt personal pressures to get SRS, there was no proof in the film they were coerced into doing so. They were clearly very confused and not receiving a lot of informed counseling. This is the extent of how she proves her thesis.

Transitioning Outside of Iran
What she doesn't explore is that, in fact, there are transitioners in the west who are highly confused about their gender identity yet seek SRS. Understanding one's gender identity (and what steps to take once you do) is a complex, often painful process fraught with gatekeeping therapists, family preassures, financial and safety concerns and shame. Many of the best known cases of MTF people who later detransitioned (including Joseph Kirchner and Alan Finch--the man who sued the Charing Cross Hospital Gender Unit and is Julie Bindel's poster child) were those who passed well as women, yet were mostly transitioning to attract men. Even well-known trans surgeons like Michael Brownstein have acknowledged how many procedures like FTM top surgery are being done on some people who haven't totally processed what's going on in their transitions. But does that mean they're being pressured into surgery and being rushed through, or they're just confused and, perhaps, needed to explore their options more thoroughly? At no point in the film does Eshaghian admit there might be a myriad of reasons why these two people felt pressured into getting SRS nor does she makes no attempt to prove that her cases are somehow representative.

Transsexual realities in Iran
In point of fact, transsexuals, pre and post-op, are still highly marginalized in Iran. They still face considerable discrimination in terms of jobs and education. They are unable to even obtain SRS unless they can come up with at least $3500 (a huge amount in a country where the per capita income is $6,000 and likely far less for young transitioners). It's a country which has extremes of income and class, with much of the country living at a level far below that amount, especially outside of Tehran. Moreover, one can only obtain SRS with their parents' signed approval. It is repeatedly said Iran has more SRS surgeries than any country except Thailand, but has anyone ever presented actual statistics to support that claim? The main, pioneering SRS surgeon in the film, Dr. Bahram Mir-Jalali says he's performed 450 SRSs in the past 12 years—less than 40 a year. By contrast, Dr. Pierre Brassard in Montreal has performed more than 200 SRSs a year for the past 10-12 years, Marci Bowers in Trinidad, CO has performed a similar number for the past 5-6 years, as has Dr. Meltzer in Scottsdale, AZ for nearly 20 years. Yet Iran's mythical huge number of SRSs has been repeated ad infinitum in a wide range of mainstream media as though it's a fact.

Queer Oppression is real
In no way do I wish to minimize the violence, oppression and marginalization Queer people in Iran encounter. This oppression is a documented fact and Iran joins other countries like Uganda as some of the worst places in which to be gay or lesbian. But "Be Like Others", while it offers some extremely moving personal histories of specific people, does little to clarify either the position of trans people in Iranian society nor how the government is actually punishing gay men. What it does do is project manhood onto all the people Eshaghian saw and make assumptions about their identities. She then proceeds to project these few cases into a national crisis of which there is currently no proof. Moreover, I feel the film has become a 'cause célèbre' because many in cisgender straight and queer-cisgender communities refuse to really explore the complexity of trans experiences and, instead, project their own agendas onto people's need for transition. What could have been a touching exploration into how trans people live in Iran, Be Like Others instead presented a flawed case of a mythical tactic of gay oppression and, in the process, dismissed the identities of many of the trans people they claimed they were there to document. How GLAAD has nominated this highly inaccurate film for an award is a slap in the face of trans people. That this film, with its lack of documentation and comprehension of the community it attempts to cover, is continually used as evidence to somehow suggest being a straight trans person is socially preferable and safer to being a non-transitioning queer one, is just plain absurd.

You look like a TRANNY!

You know this one... the ultimate insult you can say to a cisgender woman: "You look like a tranny." In other words, fake because trans women are fake, ugly because trans women are ugly and cheap because transwomen who actually try and pass are hookers. And who cares what transwomen think, anyway. Besides, lots of transmasculine and queer people use "tranny" and are convinced they're reclaiming it. Well, those people have their wish, tranny is about to get a LOT more popular.

The CW tv network has used it as the tag line of the promo of their new reality show "High Society" (basically, think of 'Gossip Girl' with nastier characters). Yes, it is the 'bad girl' Dabney who makes this snide remark but, considering how much kids and teens love Gossip Girl, expect "You Look Like a Tranny" to become a new catchphrase in schools and playgrounds around the country... very likely the new "that's so GAY" or as kids love to say (whenever they show any same sex affection or compliment) 'No Homo'. Yup, networks are always looking for the new catchphrase and there's nothing like a rich bad girl to start a new trend. I'm sure all the marginalized/suicidal trans teens will love to be treated to their new mainstream insult.

Unfortunately, a lot of younger women, perhaps emboldened by their gay friends (and Internet snarkers) who liberally use tranny, are starting to make it a synonym for "ugly/gauche" with no thought about what it might actually mean to those who are called that term as hate speech or as a form of ridicule. Christian Siriano, this country's most famous "tranny slinger" had a temporary moratorium on using the term when he was called out on it by trans activists and GLAAD. It's since crept back into his vocabulary with regularity. Another major offender is RuPaul, a gay man who has stated he is NOT transgender. Ru loves tossing "tranny" around and even defended a gay Dallas newspaper's use of the term when it was called to the carpet for being offensive. Yes, RuPaul knows what trans women need.

With media figures like that tossing tranny around (along with many transmasculine people who seem to enjoy saying "tranny, trannyfag, trannyboi" at the drop of their tractor caps), it's no surprise cisgender women think they have carte blanche to use the term however they see fit. So now, the word gets "reclaimed" for use by 11 and 12 year olds to punish anyone too ugly, femme or unpopular to fit their requirements. Good work all.

Btw, the CW's majority owner is CBS, the other network which loves to throw "tranny" in its comedy programs whenever it can.

I encourage all readers to contact the CW and let them know how you feel about this. You may wish to call this to the attention of CW Entertainment President Dawn Tarnofsky-Ostroff.
You may call the CW at: 818.977.2500 (but please be professional and polite). Explain you find using the word "tranny" in their preview of "High Society" unacceptable.

All the pretty baubles!

There are three, count 'em three shows featuring young trans women (or people being ID'd as such) either being scheduled or shopped around to cable as of Winter '10.

Actually scheduled for VH1 starting on Monday 3/15 at 10:30pm is 'TRANSform Me' starring three NYC trans women: Laverne Cox, Nina Poon and Jamie Clayton. The concept is basically a reality show where the gorgeous trans women go around the country assisting style-challenged cisgender women with makeovers. Think of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" only femme'd up. It outwardly doesn't differ too much from any of the other 10 million makeover shows. The three are fairly well known in the "reality" "Internet" world.

Laverne Cox, long a trans activist in NYC and was a contestant on Sean Combs' reality show "So you want to work for Diddy." To Combs' benefit, Cox was mostly treated with respect on that show, and little attempt was made to objectify her based on her being trans. She has also been the spokeswoman for the New York LGBT Center in most of their media.

Nina Poon was featured on ads for Kenneth Cole shoes. One ad had her and her boyfriend (a filmmaker who made a somewhat exploitive film about transwomen where Nina appeared in her birthday suit) talking about their relationship. Nina was also featured in a 5-story tall ad on Houston St. between NY University and Soho. She is a makeup artist, stylist and graphic designer.

Jamie Clayton, a makeup artist and model, was the subject of a New York Observer article called "The Second Most Beautiful Girl in New York." The article is mostly about the writer's player friend, who was in a relationship at the time with Clayton. Jamie was also on a rather exploitive episode of the Tyra Show about "Women Who Date in New York." She was basically thrown into the show as a titillation factor, at one point, of course, revealing she is transgender (to audience *gasps*). Her history had nothing to do with the show's subject and, even though she was mostly treated with respect, you could see the chill both in the attitudes of Tyra (who got what she wanted out of Ms. Clayton) and the audience after the "truth" was revealed. She spoke little afterwards since she'd lost her 'womanhood.'

VH1 has been including trans people in programming since Real World: Brooklyn, which featured Katelynn Cusanelli as the first trans participant in that show's history. The next season, Laverne Cox followed on the 'Work for Diddy Show" and now 'TRANSform Me.' It's hard to say how this concept will play out in the show. On one hand, it definitely portrays very cliched views of womanhood (you gotta be dolled up).

In the real world of programming, this series was pitched by Laverne Cox's production company (and bravo for her for being dynamic and making that happen) and the type of series it is was largely because this is the cheapest kind of programming to produce. Yet placing transwoman in this type of show has some potential underlying messages. It also seems to suggest "real women don't care about femininity anymore... it's these trans women who are the 'keepers of the traditional flame'". If that's the subtext then it sounds as if it's cis-media once again projecting a "femme is artificial--trans women are artificial" message which has been projected in a lot of media for the past 20 years. It could also be casting trans women as a sort of "super gay men" stereotype... and every girl should have one" kind of objectification. At its best, it could also provide a paradigm shift for "what is a woman" or "woman as performance". On the positive side, a large number of young ciswomen will be exposed to three intelligent, attractive trans women which may bode well for the next generation's comfort level with trans people and their identities. Here's the VH1 promo for the show.

"Boss Ladies"

A second show being shopped to cable is reality show "Boss Ladies" featuring, yes, initially three trans women of color (but eventually five) going from Atlanta to LA to open a boutique. It's produced by the Red Label Media Group. At present, no information is being given on what network this show will appear. As of now, it's just announced by Red Label and on several blogs as an upcoming show. It's also been mentioned on the Bitch Media blog and on the Gay Black Gossip blog.

The star of the show is Nadia, who received a lot of chee-zee press on TMZ for being involved with rapper lil' Bow Wow. The other two are 'Temptress' and Londyn. Temptress is also a very talented singer (with an Internet video circulating of her ripping off some great gospel at a Baptist Church). Londyn went to Morehouse College, a black, all-male (and very institutionally homophobic) institution in Atlanta and is the Creative Director of, an Internet-based shoe and accessories retailer. An intriguing trio of trans women of color who don't seem to be falling into the "hoochie it up for the camera" school of reality show participants. I am truly hoping the series does NOT sink into the stereotype of trans woman + woman of color = hooker. So far, at least in the promo materials, while making them look a bit like LA party girls, don't seem to play up that angle. We'll see. At the very least, it's good to have more trans women of color appearing in mainstream media in a, hopefully, non-hyper-sexualized context. We'll have to wait until broadcast time to make any judgments about in which direction this show is headed. To track information on the show, go to Boss Ladies' Facebook Group.

A Wild Thing showing her stuff.

Last and least is a show being shopped by the people who made the film "Transtasia" called "Wild Things." You may recall Transtasia as a documentary about the "World's First Transsexual Beauty Pageant" (which it most certainly wasn't, but...) which took place in Las Vegas and was MC'd by the late Jahna Steele (who died of a prescription drug OD not long after the filming). One problematic aspect of that film was a number of the contestants were not transsexual, and at least one was a male ID'ing female impersonator. In general, the film played up the "drag" component of the event and the implied fact these were "men not ladies."Although the film was successfully shown on Showtime, it was mostly a commerical flop. While it contained some interesting interviews with the pageant participants about their childhoods and adolescence, it also pasted a very gay man's drag view of their lives.

The director of the film has now been pitching "Wild Things" featuring three of the performers from "Transtasia": Maria Roman, Cassandra Cass and Tiara Russell. The plot involves them doing similar jobs to what Paris Hilton did in "The Simple Life" with the classic 'fish-out-of-water"... three trannies in skimpy bikinis. Evidently the opening credits of the show make very clear they were born as 'guys'. The director has stated that's what the network wanted. What supposedly legitimizes this is they're doing these jobs to earn money for Maria Roman's brother's cancer treatment, as though there's no other way to help this man.

Women, Wink-Wink
Tiara Russell, one of the three trans women in "Wild Things," is the one of the three who went on The Tyra Show and clearly identified herself as a man, and said she wished to be buried as a man because "that's the truth of who I am... I am a female impersonator." That's a perfectly okay gender ID to have, but the producer of "Wild Things" goes right ahead and identifies Russell as a transwoman. Um, not really!? But there are other potentially problematic elements in the series. At one point, Ms. Cass talks about the show and when she mentions "women", does a wink-wink and air quotes, as if to say, "you know we're not women." In fairness, Maria Roman is a well-known activist in the LA trans-latina community. Quite honestly, in the clips I've seen, she seems a bit embarrassed by the whole production.

At another point in a promo, the bikini-clad women are doing a car wash, and Ms. Cass takes the hose and puts it between her legs like a penis. The director can be heard telling her to do it again. Needless to say, lots of huge boobs hanging out of skimpy tops, lots of hotpants, lots of skimpy swimwear, lots of trans-objectification and sexism. As of the present, there is no announcement by Showtime that "Wild Things" as been picked up... it looks a little low rent for a network which has been producing top-rated shows like "Dexter," but we'll see if it ever unfortunately materializes.

Why now?
One wonders if this is backlash similar to what Susan Faludi wrote about in the book of the same name. Are these women being put out there because they're trying to make trans women more mainstream (and make a few bucks at the same time), or as a way of making them seem sexed-up and harmless? Why would there suddenly be three different productions going for a similar angle (albeit with different casts and, perhaps, very differing level of outward exploitation).

While one could say they all attempt to grant trans women some level of beauty and acceptance as women and human beings, it can be said they also make these women's transness an aspect of how artificial femininity is and how it can even be exemplified by (implied) men. And yes, this was mentioned in "Whipping Girl" by Julia Serano as one of the reasons clichéd femininity is often projected onto trans women as a way of making them seem artificial and often used against cisgender women who are deemed "too unsuccessfully femme" and identified as resembling "trannies"—supposedly the ultimate insult any cis woman can hear. To dredge up some old wounds, many 2nd wave feminists have stated this kind of "trans-femininity" is a tool of the patriarchy to oppress all women.

At the very least, I wish the women (and male 'female impersonator') in these shows well, hope it helps them pay the rent and any qualms I have about the productions and what they're communicating I'm saving for the producers, sponsors, and networks—those who really have power over how our communities are represented. I do hope trans people are way past the point where any media exposure is thought to better than no media exposure. Our beauties are too precious inside and out to waste on this fluff.