Friday, April 24, 2009

Why some trans people might assume the worse...

Bitch magazine just did a profile of cartoonist Erika Moen and touched on a comic strip Moen did that looked at the fetishization of trans men by some lesbians which has made some ripples in the trans communitities.

Admittedly, I only saw the original out of context, but personally I read the original as a tongue-in-cheek critique. But -- particularly when seen just on its own -- I can also see how it can be read as dismissing objections about being objectified. And in fact a trans blogger put out a reworded version of the original comic that made the point about fetishization much more bluntly. (Bitch has both versions included in their profile.)

I have to say I was disappointed, but not surprised, by the reactions of some of commenters over at Bitch, who essentially told trans people to quit taking things so seriously.

Yes there are people devoid of humor of all stripes (including trans people and feminists), but dismissing people who objected to the cartoon as humorless and not focusing on the real enemies strikes me as being unwilling to take the time to listen and try to understand why some people might've found the piece problematic. (And might I note accusations of being "humorless" is something that's been used to silence feminists...)

Because there's another context going on -- trans people are being routinely silenced in a number of feminist spaces.

Such as when BitchPhd cracks a tranny "joke" and then tells people to lighten up and STFU.

Such as the spate of problems that prompted some trans bloggers to boycott Feministing and Feministe.* From routinely derailing trans topics with "stop the conversation until you trans people spoon feed me Trans 101 that I can't be bother to try to figure out from context or try to look up;" to derailing trans topics by "I know the original post was about trans rights legislation but I want to talk about how uncomfortable I am with sharing bathrooms with men;" to derailing by "I want to talk about how trans issues affect me, me, me;" to "Sure I started by mentioning a trans issue, but really I'm just using it to talk about how gender affects cisgender people."

Such as implicit/explicit presumptions gender essentialism (i.e. trans people are, and always will be, "really" their birth gender) by some feminists. Or that trans people are just "tools of the gender binary" -- an accusation that gets aimed at trans women way more than trans men BTW. Or that "I'm going to ignore their lived experiences because it gets in the way of my theories." To outright transphobic attacks. All of which in particular seem to come from folks who self-identify themselves as rad fems.

Such as how posts about Seth Rogen's late movie can attract hordes "that's horrible" comments, but posts about trans women getting killed in hate crimes are met by crickets chirping.

Given all that, I hope people can see why the piece could be seen as expressing privilege, not critiquing it. It may be a misreading of it, but frankly there's a lot of raw nerves among my peeps because of the things I've mentioned. Made worse by the feeling that a number of feminists aren't willing to do more than give lip service to us or our issues -- in part precisely because it would require them (as the rewording put it) to do "WAY too much introspection on my part." Which can make some people (rightly or wrongly) inclined to assume the worst.

* To their credit, both sites are trying to address these issues, even if I don't think they've done so particularly successfully yet.


helen_boyd said...

i'd just like to point out that art is meant to point out how things are, not how they should be.

which is where, imho, this whole debate goes wrong.

Kathy said...

How things are includes more than one point of view - and includes pointing out how the way we view how things are has effects. Which is an implicit statement on how things should be.

It's hard to argue that Guernica was meant to merely document the event without in some way effecting how things should be.

ginasf said...

Art can point out many things Helen... some of it is utopian, some is 'social realism/satire'. This art (her comic) is an expression of cisgender entitlement to view transpeople as they wish. Yes, I get the irony implied in her comic, but I also get how she's ultimately comfortable in her right to objectify who she wants. Just as for decades, white people felt totally entitled to objectify black people as they wished and men continue to do the same with women. Unfortunately, Bitch, a magazine I've liked in past, seems to be going down a road of, "we're hip, we can say whatever we want about transpeople (to wit the reference to the recent "dudes dressed as women" headline a couple of issues back) and it will still come off as progressive/ironic." But it isn't. Entitlement coming from outside the group being 'owned' is never okay. And there have been too many incidents like this at Bitch to ignore it. I'm very disappointed in a magazine I used to subscribe to and enjoy.