Friday, January 21, 2011

Dear Pop Culture: Leave TransFolk Alone!

Ok, so am I the only one who really would prefer it if pop culture would leave transfolks alone? I'm not saying I don't want our folks in media, quite the opposite, I want our faces, our stories, our experiences out there; I want visibility for our people. That said, there is a difference between visibility (which I define as socialized educational promotion of our community and cause) and simple exploitation or just plain annoying stereotyping.

Pop Culture often will poke fun at or provide cameos for community leaders or performers that it respects. And if this were what was happening for transfolks, to for example have Kate Bornstein on TV, that'd be awesome. But that isn't what happens. I am so sick of non-trans media outlets feeling that they have the right to represent us when they don't have a clue about what they are doing. This isn't just a trans issue, is a problem for all groups outside the privileged minority, but I'm trans so I'm gonna talk about trans stuff. The reason why transfolks (and queers) are included in media is because we are considered weird and fascinating. We're an interesting hook. Many people take it as a compliment when, to repeat previous sentiments, Pop Culture throws us a bone with a "its better than nothing" mentality. Me, I would rather be ignored than have to deal with mainstream adaptations of my people based on what outsiders think we are.

This week, The Simpsons, an old school favorite of mine (until it stopped being funny around season 20, but I still love the old episodes) has finally got on the culture-crash band wagon and making jokes about trans folk. I have to admit that unlike last years' Family Guy disaster, the Simpsons trans cameo was far from monstrous, but it wasn't anything to cheer about.

via The Bilerico Project

(Note: You think its a coincidence that that one women looks like Winne from the Kinsy Sicks?) I have to admit as an activist I thought the little rally was cute, but I am left feeling confused, wondering about the intent. To me, I see a cute little community rally portrayed, with queers and other 'queer' groups - but I'm a radical queer and see this as my community. To others - the creators included perhaps - I'm sure that they saw one 'freak' community(transfolks) and then wanted to continue to highlight how weird and strange queers are by adding other "weird" things like the Furries and the "1900s style gays". Were they trying to make fun of Furry communities too? Possibly the Simpsons' intent was to humanize these communities, but it isn't clear to me. Why include Furries (who aren't expressly 'gay' by the way) but not Leather? And I can't help but laugh at the episode's androcentric gay community with 1 lesbian (Selma). I definitely recognized our community in this in the stereotype promoted here: that all transfolk are trying to pass inside a cultural mirror of gender conformity. And maybe its because this is a real life problem for us that I was irked to see it used by non-trans people to crack a joke for a primarily non-trans audience. Yeah, we have a hard time, thanks for laughing at our troubles - and what's worse, not even knowing or caring how it affects us.

I definitely do not think that non-trans or non queer people can not or should not be a part of the trans movement. What I do think is that when it comes to representation, best leave it to the community OR at the very least educate yourself before doing something stupid or offensive. But Pop Culture doesn't do that. It just throws us in because we are interesting or funny or fascinating, and that's fucking bullshit. Am I reading too much into this mostly harmless clip? Honestly, part of me thinks I am, but the rest of me is saying that every little bit helps, or hurts. And if we don't play watchdog for ourselves, who else is going to do it? It is not impossible for the media to get it right, for example the trans character on Degrassi (Canadian show, go figure) is widely recognized to be a good adaptation. So clearly the issue here is lack of trying. Pop Culture doesn't care about actually representing, they just want to exploit. Surprise, surprise. The continual usage of the trans community as an community clown or freak act plays into our dehumanization, not the other way around.



Dharma Kelleher said...

I heartily agree. Last night's series premiere of "Fairly Legal" is another example of using trans and gender-variant characters in negative ways.

Unknown said...

Maybe I've been around and fighting this particular battle a little too long, but after years of butting my head against this stone wall, I have to tell you that you're going to need to get over it, stop swimming upstream and learn to make the media work for you.

We will never escape the grip of popular culture, nor should we make any effort to try. Indeed, the more we become a part of the popular culture, yes even when we're being made fun of (and of course, there's a line between humor and true bigotry), the harder it becomes to see us as "other" and deny us equality on that basis.

In order to shape the media, you must become the media, as both creator and as subject.

That's the way to accomplish our goals here. I used to be just like you until I learned better, as you will.

Don't fight the media, become the media. Instead of trying to extract yourself from it, use it to amplify your own voice.

Maverynthia said...

Am I the only one offended here at Rebecca's "holier than thou" "ur doin it wrong" comment?

Unknown said...

Just my best advice. Take it or leave it, as you like.

Bitterness Barbie said...

The Simpsons actually aired an episode where a cross-dressing Lenny was beaten, electrocuted, and shot so I don't know their track record is any better than Family Guy

whitemaleassignedqueer said...

i had the same reaction when watching that episode. and no, unfortunately, i do not think the writers at the simpons viewed the rally (or intended teh audience to view the rally) as you or i did. it was just an excuse to lump a bunch of freaky communities together for gawk value.

and the scene in the bar with marge was even worse. were they drag queens? trans women? who cares, they're weirdddd!

(also sidebar i am now loling cause my verification word for this comment is "cesbian")