Thursday, October 31, 2013

On My Disdain For The Transgender Junk Flash

I had this whole thing where I was going to write a list of transgender-related tropes, but my heart wasn't entirely in it (maybe in the future).  Instead I'm going to write about just this one, because it's one that I don't see people talk about a lot (I'm sure people are at least thinking it) and it's one that gets to me over and over again.  It's a very common media device in film about trans folk.

I call it the junk flash.

Wait, what's that?  Well, the junk flash is when a movie or television show (or some other media) just has to find a way to show a transgender character's "junk."  By "junk" I mean things transgender people in general tend to keep covered... it includes nudity, but also under-the-garments paraphernalia such as binders, packers, the scalp beneath a wig, and so forth.

And you know what?  It infuriates me.  When I see it I tune out.

"But why? Aren't you implying that transgender bodies are horrible monstrosities that should never be seen?"

Well, no.  I don't agree with that assessment at all, hypothetical reader.  There is a big difference between sticking a nude trans person in film and, for example, by-trans-for-trans pornography or nude photography meant to showcase our bodies in a positive manner a la Loren Cameron.

The reason this infuriates me is that there is often no real plot-based reason to do so, when there is a reason it's usually horrible, and the only reason it's stuck in there is to titillate cis people and strengthen their entitlement toward trans folks' bodies... not to validate our existence in any way.

"Wait, what?"

Let's take Transamerica, a movie which is problematic on several levels (those of you who read my Twitter may have experienced my rant about how the movie makes no attempt to challenge the fact that Bree's therapist is a gatekeeping piece of shit) and has not one but two instances of the junk flash.  The first shows Bree's penis as she takes a piss alongside the road.  Keep in mind that at the point Bree is taking a piss, we are already well aware that she has a penis, so there was no reason to show it off to the audience except to titillate them.  In the second she is sighing with relief in the bathtub, full post-op body visible, a scene presumably there to "prove" to the audience that she's finally "complete" and provide another opportunity for gratuitous nudity.

Sometimes the junk flash is meant to be shocking.  In the movies "The Crying Game" and "Sleepaway Camp," it's the display of a penis that reveals the character is trans.  This is a problematic concept in itself as it reinforces the idea that suddenly being privy to a trans person's body is something to be shocked and enlightened by.  Even so, it actually bugs me less because at least it's a part of the plot, however shitty it may be (and I don't think of "The Crying Game" as an overall terrible movie for all its faults).

For trans female characters this is practically a given.  "Orange is the New Black" shows Laverne Cox's character almost immediately, "To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar" features a wig being yanked off Patrick Swayze's character's head, Alice from "Superjail!" often is shown with her penis visible through her clothing, Mrs. Garrison of South Park's breasts (which are portrayed as lopsided and misshapen to drive the "trans people are mutilated" point home) are regularly shown, at one point alongside cis female characters with censored breasts.

Again, it's important to recognize that the problem isn't inherently that people portray nude trans people, it's that the way it's done is in the context of cis peoples' entitlement toward our bodies.  It's an extension of the same mentality that makes cis people believe it's totally cool to ask personal questions about our genitals; there's the assumption that cis people deserve to know what our bodies look like.  They also serve to reaffirm to cis people what they believe our bodies look like... cis people believe trans women necessarily have penises, have obviously-fake breasts, and must wear wigs, and so those are likely to be featured in cis-focused media.

In the case of trans men, I have only rarely seen this phenomenon, but it almost is worth its own problematic device for the couple times I have just so any of you reading don't get any ideas: "perky titted trans guy."  This device portrays nude trans male bodies as stereotypically attractive and sexualized female bodies.  In the case of "Boys Don't Cry," in the scene where Brandon is raped there are several shots which are clearly eroticized for the audience as if Brandon is a woman (I'm sure the people who designed these shots would attempt to disagree but I cannot see any other explanation).  The success of eroticizing a pre- or non-T trans male body in a mainstream film relies on showcasing that body as feminine sexy, being devoid of body hair, relatively thin, with perky breasts.  Although there are certainly trans men who would qualify--and be happy about that--in general being viewed this way is not something trans men are comfortable with.  On an aside, it's also important to recognize that "Boys Don't Cry" is about a real person who was brutally raped and murdered... and now a depiction of that is frequently uploaded to wank websites.  Thanks, Fox Searchlight.

A more egregious example that wasn't in film was the comic "Trans Men Are Ridiculously Hot" by Erika Moen.  Although she has since apologized for this depiction, it's still a good example of what I'm talking about. Trans men are pretty much depicted as being physically identical to stereotypically attractive cis women but wearing binders and packers.  Perky tits and all.  And again, that's not to say there aren't trans men who don't have perky tits (and as I alluded to earlier I have certainly met some who were happy with how perky their tits are), but for a huge chunk of us at least the idea of being viewed this way is a major dysphoria trigger because these are features of our bodies that make us very uncomfortable.

That last example is particularly disturbing because this comic makes the case that trans men are hot, but the features Moen is describing as hot are not "trans male features."  The way the trans man vs. the cis man are portrayed implies that Moen's fascination with trans men is due to the perception that we are hairless and feminine (and have perky tits).  But even pre-T trans men are not necessarily hairless (I certainly wasn't), binding does weird things to breasts if you do it long enough (not to mention most of us plan on getting them removed), and so forth.

There are lots of tropes and clich├ęs involving trans people that make media a hellhole for a lot of us, this is just one of them.  Whether I write about more of them, I guess, depends on just how often I am irked by them.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Just Look At This Fucking Awesome Goose

Seriously.  Just look at it.  There are three of these at Horicon Marsh right now.  Just chilling, posing for the birders who park alongside Highway 49 to get a gander at them (see what I did there).

When I saw it I had no idea what it was.  Then it dawned on me it was probably some sort of Canada Goose variant based on the bill and some of the coloration.  Some folks on the Internet have pegged it as a hybrid between a Canada Goose and a Chinese/Swan Goose.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

10 Unexpected Trans Annoyances

I don't know what I was thinking about first, but eventually it evolved into the ways cis people as well as some trans people have framed my transsexualism.  This isn't a comprehensive list.  It doesn't apply to everyone.  This is a list of personal experiences that I have had as a white male trans man in the midwest.  Most of them occurred pre-T.  These are annoying experiences.  Please do not repeat them with others.

1. Pointing out everything feminine about me as if you're helping me be a better man.

Unless we are explicitly asking for advice, just shut the fuck up.  In my case, even some really good friends of mine seemed to have been just waiting for a time to inject that my earrings didn't help me pass or that my pendants were too big for a man to wear or that some behavior of mine came off as too feminine.  These are things I was already fully aware of, and pointing them out only served to make me fully, deeply cognizant of the fact that my friends of all people were constantly pulling apart my gender expression.

2. Saying things like "Oh, I wouldn't date you, I'm gay."

Something I've never, ever, ever done: Asked a gay man out.  No, really.  If we were playing "Never Have I Ever" and you said "I have never asked a gay man for sex or a date," I would  not drink because I have never done this. Even when I identified as a gay man myself. This is mostly because I don't expect gay men to be open to me.  So wait... why are people constantly telling me about how undateable I allegedly am?  Because when I made it clear that I was interested in men, the gay men "in the audience" would automatically, without any prompting, make it very clear that they weren't interested in me, usually using the frightfully transphobic excuse that they aren't interested "because they're gay."

Now, rejecting somebody's advances is absolutely your right for whatever reason you want. Not everybody has to be attracted to trans men.  What I do demand, though, is some fucking respect. If you aren't interested in trans men, it isn't "because you're gay."  We're men, you asshole.

You know what else?  You don't even need to mention our trans status at all if one of us does hit on you and you aren't cool with that. Just say you aren't interested.  You're talking about an issue that makes a lot of us really sensitive, and yet gay guys seem to ram through it like a fucking sledgehammer.  Have some tact.  Christ.

3.  Referring to us using terminology almost exclusively used for our assigned sex.

When I first came out at college it was stunning how long it took for people to recognize that I wasn't heterosexual.  One time somebody created one of the world's most disturbing queer games, "Guess My Kinsey Scale," and EVERYBODY defined me as a 0-2 even though they knew I was only interested in men at the time.  This was a constant fight for me.  One of the reasons giving up gay identity when I turned out to be bi was so difficult for me was because it was so fucking difficult to gain that distinction among a sea of well-meaning-but-ultimately-transphobic gays and lesbians.

Media and academia often have this same problem. Some of the first documentaries I saw on the subject of trans people referred to trans men as "transgendered females."  The asinine autogynephilia explanation of transsexualism refers to straight trans women as "homosexual" and trans lesbians as "autogynephiles."

Don't do this shit.  Seriously.  Refer to us using terminology designed for our gender identities.

4. Assuming that being recognized as a third-gender is enough.

Unless the person you're talking to/about really is a non-binary-privileged gender, don't act as if we are some exotic in-between category.  Some trans men and trans women do feel this way, but many of us don't.

When people tell me I should try to identify as genderqueer or something like that--considering I do not identify this way--what I hear is "I'm never gonna recognize you as fully male anyway so you might as well accept it."  Bite your tongue.

5. Making comparisons to therianthropy or BIID without regard for trans peoples' feelings.

Therians believe they are somehow part non-human animal (spiritually, psychologically, or something like that) while BIID (body integrity identity disorder) is a condition in which a person feels as though an abled part of themselves should be disabled (for instance, somebody who feels like their legs are not supposed to be there).  I maintain that these are both respectable conditions.  I am a member of the wider therian community myself as well as a supporter of people with BIID.

Where things go wrong is with lack of evidence and lack of courtesy.  Keep in mind that "what's next, transitioning into a dolphin?" is common snark against trans people (I mean, there was an awful South Park episode about that, right?), and so hearing comparisons like this can be a trigger for trans folk.  In the case of BIID, making this comparison implies that people with physical disabilities have different psychologies/brain structures than abled people, which they don't.

The point is that although there are comparisons that can be made, they really need to be tactful and it's important to recognize that there are some really fundamental differences.  Being a therian, for example, doesn't reflect on your ID, your birth certificate, or your records (because there is no field for "species"), it doesn't affect what bathrooms and public services you can use, and so forth.

6. People thinking they are savvy enough to use trans slurs.

"Oh, I see you're looking for more tr*****s on the Internet again!"  One of my cis friends said that as she walked in and saw me browsing URNotAlone a few years ago.  No, you really don't have the rapport with me to say that.

7. Talking about surgery.

I don't currently have the money for top surgery and that's a serious source of pain for me.   I don't want bottom surgery and don't really like thinking about it.  But people just love bringing up surgery plans, sometimes repeatedly (My dad almost has a little script he goes through that completely depersonalizes my body: "You're just going for the removal of the breasts and not the creation of the penis, correct?").

Most of the time when this is brought up by trans folk it's in the context of people asking very personal questions about what already is.  "So, have you had the surgery yet?"  And so forth.  For me this manifests itself mostly with regard to my future plans because it's relatively well-known I haven't had any surgeries yet.  I know that you're likely trying to act supportive, but all it really does is kick up my dysphoria and lack of self confidence.  If you're talking about top surgery, all it does is remind me I have boobs.  If you're talking about bottom surgery, all it does is remind me that there are a lot of people out there that don't consider what I have enough.

8. Constantly asking if my friends and partners are transgender, or if they know I am.

You know how many friends and partners I've talked about at home without my dad asking if they are transgender, usually in some offensive manner that I can't even begin to get him to understand is offensive ("So this is a guy who wants to be a girl, right?").  Zero.  It's like a constant source of interest, as if the fact that I am trans means I must be in a friendship bubble with only other trans people.

The other, of course, is "Do they know?"  The answer when it comes to me is this:  If work friends, no. If school friends, probably. If close friends, yes.  If partners, absolutely.

The reality, though, is that this is none of your business.  You really don't need to know if my friends are transgender or not.  And whether or not I let them know I am is my own business.

9. Lamenting my inability to have children or pressuring me to give birth while I still can.

No.  No, no, no, no, no.  Stop it.  Christ.  Stop telling me I should get eggs frozen, stop telling me I should consider going off hormones to give birth like Thomas Beatie, just stop it.

10. Bringing up Chaz Bono.

I like Chaz Bono.  He has done a great deal for the trans community, and in many ways referencing him (such as in Dancing With The Stars) has been how my family has told me they support me when they are too embarrassed to outright say it.

But seriously.  Chaz Bono is not shorthand for trans men.  There's a limit.