Sunday, January 06, 2008

What Trans People Have in Common with Lyndon Johnson's Gall Bladder

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.


Amanda said...

What you describe seems to be part and parcel of transpeople everywhere. Go to most trans support groups, (especially ones composed of upper middle class individuals) and people talking about jetting off to Thailand or Trinidad takes up a good chunk of meetings.
Read trans memoirs (where surgeries always take up a pivotal role in the story) or watch trans movies (where the surgeries are usually near the end and act like a climax for the movie-Transgeneration, Red Without Blue).

ISTM a large number of upper middle class transwomen look at surgery as a mandatory rite of passage-"ooh, look at me, I got this surgery so that means I'm now officially a woman!"

Estelle said...

With out a doubt what we do is the biggest thing in our lives. The price is not only everything we have, and its loss, but is the subject of our future. Yes, the gay rights of passage are real, but they are not something that can be presented as a measure of identity. Like I keep saying to the Trans-community, "If you want social acceptance, then you have to be socially acceptable." Acceptable is being accessible, authentic, and not acting out in strange character. Listen, even “Normal” people who are strange get shunned, so we have an extra unction to be non-threatening and comforting. Back in Johnson’s era Transsexuals were an oddity, yet were treated by many with care as we were seen as a medical anomaly. Since we have been maligned by the GLBt propaganda line, and are now banded as freaks. Time for us to put on our Sunday dress and be modestly approachable.

proudprogressive said...

Great freakin post ! Great analogy, just a wonderful rule for 08 - you said so much in so few words. Would consider reading this post as a youtube so that more people might see it ? Just a thought. Not asking you to take your shirt off or nothing

thank you Jenny

proudprogressive said...

There is another analogy that comes to mind. The Black Political social struggle. yep, There was Martin Luther King,there were the Black Panthers and other militant groups. BOTH were very important and continue to be relavent today and instructional - look whose philosphy won the most political progress,in the ceasing of "granted civil rights" its was MLKs group of thinkers. BUT clearly , Cornell West, WEB Dubois, Malcolm X and MANY MANY others have made tremendous contibutions to political and social theory. These are the building blocks of progress, each a brick on the road to liberation. WE the TG/TS comm. cannot be all things to all people, not at this point in history. All we can do is be reasonably inclusive with eachother,as Estelle and Amanda say. - its makes me think of a story recently told to me by a friend where someone stumbled into a TS support group IN DIAPERS !! and some poor soul dressed as little bo peep. EXCUSE ME ! - but this is not helpful, and in fact as i have said elsewhere on this wonderful blog...there are groups for fetishers and frankly somethings are done ONLY in the privacy of one's home,and more power to ya , whatever floats your boat, be safe and god speed.

.BUT good grief, the lack of social skills - normal average social skills, this sort of exhibitionist behavior requires a mental health group , its not a TS issue per se, nor should the comm. take the brunt of it. Its not to say we are hard hearted, its a question of reasonable clinical assessment. The basic rules of the REAL WORLD,that apply to all HUMANS. In other words a good parent was missing for these types. They never learned basic boundaries about private behavior.

I worked a long time as clinical social worker. And more then once had to gently redirect pts in a day room to do certain things in private..the senerio above takes me back to decades working on the back wards. And no TS/TG support groups are just that, and that alone. WE deserve to have boundaries and appropriate criteria for behavior and participation. Its just common sense !!