Saturday, March 27, 2010

GLAAD's "Ineffective" Campaign And Doing The Right Thing Even If It Isn't Easy

Some time ago, I received an email in my inbox asking for people to get involved in a survey about HIV risks for men who have sex with men (MSM). It was very specifically about penile-anal intercourse (PAI) and very specific about the kinds of participants that were wanted. While there are are some transmen in our community who have male partners, it was clear that they weren't who the survey was about, so I forwarded it to a couple crossdresser group lists but otherwise ignored it.

A week or so later, the survey request arrived in my inbox again. Also ignored.

A few days later, the sender followed up with an email asking me why I hadn't forwarded the MSM survey information on to the trans networks I'm involved in. I replied (in nicer words) that if they were interested in transwomen participating, they could have at least bothered to make the effort to word the request more inclusively. To me, the heavy emphasis on MSM and PAI terminology made it clear how participants would be regarded and treated. At this, the sender flipped out, accusing me of being homophobic and saying I'd be guilty of the genocide of every transsexual woman (which was not the terminology he used, but by this time that was obviously who he meant) who contracted HIV as a result of my "knowingly suppressing" information about it.

In the Alberta communities, I've kept myself at an arm's length from mainstream LGB(T) groups, participating somewhat, but not getting enveloped in LGBT culture. I do believe in an inclusive community (and am a bisexual in a lesbian relationship, so am affected by and do get involved with LGB issues), but I also believe that trans-specific advocacy needs to be first driven by trans people, regardless of where we come to in the "should we include the T" debate. And while I've found the vast majority of LGB advocates to "get it" about us at least enough to respect trans identities -- many very earnestly wanting to help despite the occasional fumble in doing so (yes, including Bil Browning) -- every so often the patronizing "you're just deluded, I know who you *really* are" attitude bubbles up from someone, and the arm's length is useful to keeping it from blowing up into a fight that leaves everybody bitter over trans inclusion. Aside from when I'm "knowingly suppressing" information for MSM, that is.

I don't bring this up to drive a wedge between groups, but to make a point. There has been a growing sentiment in the online community, as people in the US started realizing that even with a Democrat congress, senate and "fierce advocate" President, an inclusive ENDA was going to be a difficult sell, and it was our fault. I saw it in comments around the web as people complained about the potential liability we were via the growing bathroom debates, in the complaints that we saw ENDA as more important than same-sex marriage, in the drop-off of trans writers in LGBT arenas (some who've made similar observations), and even as far back as the protests about being tired of angry trannies venting about the HRC. Trans people are being increasingly resented because the greater community signaled with UnitedENDA that a bill that dropped transfolk wholesale was no longer acceptable. By the time a blog controversy hit that my readers will probably be familiar with, it seemed more like an editorial sea change to embrace this growing readership than anything that was just out of the blue (which may not have been the case, but at any rate, it's done). In the context of all this, the rumours of a caveat being written into ENDA to... well, we don't know just yet, but it has something to do with concessionary language about transwomen and restrooms... is unsurprising, and worries me that some of our own "fierce advocates" will ultimately embrace the same roll-over-and-take-it approach they perceive in a legislator they are now decrying.

It's time to call for, support and thank those who continue to do the right thing, even if it isn't easy or a guaranteed win.

And that includes GLAAD, who campaigned against the Tribeca Film Festival's inclusion of a transploitative film that would have probably been simply another badly-acted bit of visually caricaturish B-grade schlock masquerading as "camp" if it hadn't tried to co-opt some very real tragedies in the murders of Angie Zapata and other trans-identified or trans-affected (i.e. apparently in the case of Jorge Mercado) people, and then pass itself off as the voice of our community's anger.

GLAAD which is now being criticized and called "right up there with the Human Rights Campaign in its irrelevance" for speaking out against the film.

In reply to Queerty's 8 points:

"1) TRIBECA'S ALREADY DECIDED TO RUN THE FILM NO MATTER WHAT"

So? If we focused only on easy targets and ran away at the first sign of difficulty, we'd still be fighting to decriminalize sodomy. We don't advocate for people because it's easy.

"2) THE GLAAD CAMPAIGN AGAINST TOTWK HAS HELPED GUARANTEE ITS SUCCESS"

And also guaranteed that it will be accompanied with the knowledge that the community it's allegedly supposed to be about are protesting it as an inaccurate representation of who we are. Silence is tacit approval.

Maybe next year, Tribeca will remember this and seek to be inclusive by choosing a film from a now better-educated standpoint. I'd call that an eventual win, if it happens.

"3) GLAAD HAS PROVED ITSELF TO BE A POOR ARBITER OF TASTE"

While exploitation of real tragedies could be considered a matter of "taste," blatant misrepresentation of a community that is then dismissed with indifference when it protests goes a little deeper. Sure, GLAAD fell for the FoF Superbowl ruse -- we all did -- but drumming up the mistakes when someone does something right isn't exactly the best kind of encouragement to stay focused on the objective.

"4) TOTWK COULD URGE THE TRANS-COMMUNITY TO SUPPORT A TRANS-DIRECTOR TO TELL THEIR STORY"

I have a story I'd love to turn into a potentially powerful film. Is there anyone willing to produce and fund it?

This attitude is all well and good, but doesn't change the fact that if one community makes an exploitive film that claims to tell the story of another, the latter has the right to be angry if it's misrepresented.

"5) HOWEVER, FILMS "FOR US BY US" WON'T SOLVE ALL THE PROBLEMS OF TRANS-REPRESENTATION"

Neither will defending a film whose portrayal is just really bad.

"6) TOTWK IS A REVENGE FANTASY, NOT A REALISTIC PORTRAYAL OF TRANS-VIOLENCE"

Tell that to Traditional Values Coalition and their flock. This might hold water if there weren't large swaths of people who already really believed it.

"7) BRINGS ISSUES ABOUT TRANS-VIOLENCE AND REPRESENTATION INTO THE MAINSTREAM"

Such as the tragedy of running mascara during fight scenes? It's obvious that the film didn't take anti-trans violence seriously if it turned it into the vehicle for comedy, so why should anyone else?

"8) THE ENTIRE TRANS COMMUNITY ISN'T AGAINST THE FILM"

Trotting up someone who doesn't realize how she's being exploited (sorry Krystal, but it's true, and it's disappointing to have to point it out) isn't representative of large swaths of the community.

Thank you to GLAAD for doing something right, even if it wasn't an easy win.

I hope many of our inclusive organizations will be ready to do the same when the new ENDA wording is unveiled.

(crossposted to DentedBlueMercedes)

6 comments:

Gina said...

Mercedes,

It's been an "interesting" experiencing the reactions to this, to say the least. And seeing the barely crusted community wounds splitting open en masse (I'm think I'm getting subconsciously influenced by the Mr. Luna's 'artistic aesthetic') People in the LGB communities protested films like Cruising, 9 Dead Gay Guys and Basic Instinct with more vitriol and louder voices than we're doing yet we're doing here. If African Americans can kick Amos and Andy off the tv (and not all of them agreed about that either) or Latino's can tell Frito-Lay to nix the Bandito, then we have a perfect right to have our voices heard and not have this marketed by the festival as "a ground-breaking transgender film" or as Queerty so bizarrely put it: "Luna's film is arguably the most mainstream depiction of transfolk yet (?!)"

Also interesting how all tranny porn has trans people in them... by the standards of this film, why aren't those "mainstream depictions" of transfolk?

As to GLAAD, I'm pleased they spoke out on this... I honestly didn't expect them to. They deserve kudos (and I've criticized them a lot in past). I do think it was mishandled by them for NOT speaking out about the film as soon as they had access to it. To me, it points up an issue with them about how they tiptoe around issues of LGB-generated transphobia I believe they dragged their feet because he was an LGB filmmaker with a lot of connections among gay film people and in the Dallas queer community. If they HAD actually listened to the trans women who wrote them about this issue over a year ago, warning them the film was being made and what the title was, they might not be in the mess they're in now.

VĂ©ronique said...

Thank you for this, Mercedes. Very well reasoned.

Dr. Jillian T. Weiss said...

I read in the New York Times yesterdaydis that GLAAD initially worked with the director on this film and approved of it, and only changed their stance after it was already scheduled and they got some input from trans people that was critical. Do you know if this is true? I would still say kudos to GLAAD for taking the right stance in the end, but I do wonder about GLAAD sometimes.

Gina said...

This is a link to a copy of GLAAD's statement on what Luna claims was their history with this film:

http://transformingmedia.blogspot.com/2010/03/glaad-responds-to-silly-untrue.html

FYI, I wrote the blog entry that kind of started most of this "drama". The previous entry in my blog was all about how hypocritical the GLAAD Media Awards are for awarding people for representing the LGBT community when they really mean the gay community and that those people had, in fact, done some rather trans-ignorant things. GLAAD has a terrible history with standing up against transphobia coming from the LGB communities. The only other instance than this which I know is when Christian Siriano of Project Runway kept saying "hot tranny mess".

On the same day I'd written the blog about the movie, I wrote GLAAD (and the film festival reps) about it with a link to the blog. Got zero response from either.

Btw, a number of trans women from Dallas wrote GLAAD over a year ago about the impending filming of this epic and its title which Israel Luna announced on a Dallas Voice blog thread about using the word tranny. No response.

I'm pleased GLAAD has done this... I do believe they mismanaged the situation by not condemning the film the second they heard about it and its title. I believe the reason they didn't was because it was by a "LGBT filmmaker" (who actually identifies as bi, btw) and they used their usual standard of kid glove treatment.

Jessie said...

Jillian, GLAAD did work on the film, but they say that they never approved it. Here's their response to the accusations:
http://transformingmedia.blogspot.com/2010/03/glaad-responds-to-silly-untrue.html

Mercedes said...

Even so, saying thanks for standing up now at least encourages GLAAD to do so in the future.

One thing I know about the organization side of things is that org function by its very nature lends itself to imperfection. That doesn't mean we should cut orgs too much slack either, by any means, but it's why slip-ups happen. I'll be writing on this a little bit more soon.