Friday, February 29, 2008

Tribeca Film Festival's trans "humor" (the sequel)

Over at Bilerico someone posed the question about whether I was being ashamed of trans hookers and couldn't the ad be viewed as a message of tolerance, i.e. "hey it's OK to be a lawyer by day and a crossdressing part-time hooker by night."

For the record, I don't think sex work is something to be ashamed of, nor should we be ashamed of trans hookers.

But the premise of the joke was that the mom with her kids was utterly blase about something that we the audience are supposed to find freakish and probably shocking. You could've substituted a talking dog and the premise would be the same. Ever in my rewriting of the ad, the joke remains premised on the crossdressing lawyer being a "freak," but at least my version tries to show something unexpected about someone who's perceived that way. Similar to a "Sex and City" episode I once saw where one of the characters was upset about the boisterous trans hookers outside her window, but through some plot twist that I don't remember, she ends up befriending them and discovers they're human too.

It's true the ad could be viewed as "hey there's nothing wrong with that" and if there was a lot of other kinds of protrayals of trans people in the media I might agree. Or had the scene been played straight and not for laughs. But let's be honest, the vast majority of Americans (even New Yorkers) do see prostitution as disreputable -- otherwise "whore" wouldn't be an epithet -- and the ad clearly seems to be making the lawyer a hooker for the additional shock value.

But the other part of what makes the ad problematic is that it's trafficking in stereotypes, i.e. if someone's trans, we obviously they must be a hooker.  It's similar to historical complaints about blacks and Latinos only getting roles that depict them as crack dealers and gang members, gays only getting roles that depict them as stereotypical caricatures, etc.

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