IT seems to me that the perfect metaphor for the way trans people are portrayed in the media might be summed up by this image:
Yes, that’s right. It’s Lyndon Johnson showing America the scar from his gall bladder surgery.
For those of you younger than, say, 45, this was a truly bizarre moment in American history. President Johnson, an odd man by any measure, had his gall bladder out, and afterwards had a press conference, and the reporters asked, how was the surgery, and he just yanked up his shirt and said, here ya go. And we all had to look at the President’s bloody scar and his flabby old man belly and the bandages on his bloody belly button. And America said, Crikey. Too much information, Mr. President.
The incident turned symbolic a few months later when a classic cartoon was published, in which “LBJ’s scar” was depicted as Vietnam.
But back to Susan Stanton– and so many of us. What I think so many trans folks in the public eye are determined to do is share our scars. To pull up our shirts, symbolically enough, and show everybody the grisly damage in our lives.
If you look at the way gay men and lesbian’s lives have been normalized in recent years, it’s impressive the way that people, in speaking of GLB lives, no longer speak exclusively, say, of butt-fucking and girl-on-girl oral sex and strap-on dildoes, just to pick a few phrases off the top of our head here. Instead we talk about, say, the fireman who saved the lives of people in the twin towers; we talk about lovely Aaron Copeland and the writing of Appalachian Spring; we talk about Ellen DeGeneres and how funny she is.
With trans people, though, we gotta hear people talk about “cutting their balls off.” We gotta hear about electrolysis of “Area 51.” We gotta hear about marriages shattered into little pieces, like glass. We gotta hear about cup sizes, and labiaplasties.. We gotta hear about “Lonely Transformations.”
I don’t know about you all, but I could happily go to the grave without ever hearing about any of those things again. And guess what: I’m willing to talk about trans issues every day of the week. But the focus maybe oughta be on something else. Like our humanity.
But it isn’t, because guess what. The press asks us, how’s your transition going? And in response, we yank up our shirts, and show everybody the scars.
JENNY BOYLAN’S NEW RULE FOR 2008: Everybody keep your shirts on. Especially when the cameras are rolling, or the mike is on. If dignity is our goal, maybe we should try, you know: acting dignified.