Friday, May 23, 2014

"We Don't Do The Things You Do, But We Live Around Here, Too"

By Kara Tucker

This is a response to a Facebook post, talking about Mr. RuPaul Charles' latest doubling and tripling down on his approval of the word "tranny" and the way a couple of trans women have chosen to defend him.
In many ways, it's a version 2.0 of my piece from April. I'll say that neither RuPaul, nor his supporters, have backed down from their beliefs on the matter or from their individual tactics since my piece in early April. With that, let's continue.

There are so many things to say right now.
1. RuPaul is, at the end of the day, a cisgender gay man who dresses up only for professional reasons. He calls them his "work clothes." He is no more a "she" than Martin Lawrence is for doing the "Big Momma's House" movies.

2. As such, no matter his background in the NYC club scene, he is still a man. As such, he is in no position to tell trans women not to be offended by it. It is also clear that he is aware of how offensive his slur usage is to many, but doesn’t care. It’s not “tone-deaf carelessness,” as Addams put it.

3. If there were any doubt about Mr. Charles' identity, his responses to the two slurs speak volumes. He's made it clear repeatedly he LOVES the word "T****y" while, when Amanda Bynes used the word "f******s" in a tweet to People Magazine, he said, "Derogatory slurs are ALWAYS an outward projection of a person's own poisonous self-loathing "

4. If that's the case, Mr. Charles must have a lot of poisonous self-loathing.

5. Mr. Charles fails to realize that, although he is not a trans woman, by virtue of his position and his attitude, some people view him as some version of such. When he continues to gleefully defend the slur, he becomes the de facto “Trans Friend” for people who don’t know better. So, while he’s safely relaxing at home as a man, trans women get to “enjoy” being referred to by the slur because he helps normalize it.

6. Yes, some trans women aren’t offended by it. Yes, some use it. But, first, they’re allowed to use it, as the direct target. Second. Why the insistence on making its usage the default? What is so wrong with acknowledging that the word is viewed as a slur by many? Why insist that it’s okay for all?

7. “B****h, you need to get stronger.” Memo to Mr. Charles and his apologists. It’s not the late ‘80s/early ‘90s anymore. Things change, hopefully for the better. One would think you’d actually want things to be better. Taking a “Well, I had to go through it. Toughen up, b****h” attitude, instead of saying, “Hey, maybe people shouldn’t use words that hurt so many. Maybe I shouldn’t use those words.”
If Mr. Charles really feels this way, I eagerly await his series of “Go ahead, say ‘It’s gay’” PSAs where he tells bullied gay kids to “toughen up, b***h”, “it’s your fault for giving those words power” and “Stop being a victim, you little f****t.”

8. If Mr. Charles is this great “icon who has done more for the trans community than anybody” (I’ve seen that said), than it would be nice if he spoke out against the vile transphobia and misogyny of some of his defenders. He doesn’t have to look far to find it.

9. Speaking of the defenders, try to learn a little first. I’ve heard the excuse of “Oh, ‘You’ve got she-mail’” is just a pun on ‘You’ve got mail.’ It’s fun!”
I would suggest that those defenders look up the name Janice Raymond and learn just how loaded and offensive the word “S*****e” is to trans people. That woman did untold damage to trans people everywhere, due to the negative impacts the efforts she and her ilk had on trans health care. Damage that is still being undone in areas. So, yeah, you’ll forgive me if I don’t appreciate your little “fun” pun playing off a word first popularized by a woman who has the blood of trans people on her hands.

10. Some people want to make this out to be an “Oh, you hate drag” issue. Absolutely not. It is an art form and Mr. Charles has been as successful with it as anybody has been. It is also a safe space for some trans women to first explore who they are. A friend of mine, someone who’s not a performer, said to me a couple months ago that drag queens saved her life. They allowed her an avenue for herself to start appearing, a way out of the misery she was in. Today, she’s living a great life.
It’s not about drag. It’s about showing a little more respect for women. And, for the love of all that’s holy and decent, it is NOT homophobic to call this kind of stuff out.

11. Side point about drag lingo, just because I’ve seen defenders try to make this point. Yes, we’re aware the origins of the term “fish” are kind of gross and misogynist. However, I highly doubt any woman has been attacked, beaten and/or killed by someone yelling “Fish!” at her.  Not the case with trans women and (not censoring in this paragraph) “tranny”, “shemale”, “he/she”, “shim”, etc.
As another friend put it, “When I hear tranny or shemale in public, I know to be ready to run.”

12. On to James and Addams, “disappointment” would be a good word. I know some people say there is no such thing as a “trans community.” They sort of have a point, but I tend to view it as there isn’t a unified trans community. It’s like any actual community. There are varied neighborhoods and degrees of interaction between them. There are good people and bad people and in-between, neighborhoods most people like and others perhaps best avoided.
For me, these two women have made it clear that I should not be in their neighborhood, that it is not a place where I could feel safe or welcomed.

13. How so? Well, for starters, I’m bi, I haven’t been in transition as long as they have and I don’t support Mr. Charles' right to keep slinging slurs on his show. He's not a "jester," he's a successful businessman, one whose brand of drag is as "punk" as a T-shirt at Hot Topic these days.
As for the first part, it’s really rather unseemly for them to continue to attack lesbian trans women (or “transbians” as AJ does, stealing a TERF term). The not-so-subtle message is clear: “Straight white women are the normal ones. The lesbians are the nutty fringe. We’re normal. They’re the easily offended kooks.”
Not only is this wrong-headed, it’s also incorrect. There are PLENTY of straight trans women who have no use for Mr. Charles use of “t****y” and “s*****e.”

14. The none-too-subtle misgendering tactic of invoking the “male privilege” tack against critics? Very divisive. For one, it presupposes that every trans woman who disagrees with them lived a perfect male life, free of any and all strife. Oh, sure, there were the beatings and verbal abuse, the suicide attempts, the broken relationships with family and partners, the various stop-and-starts in coming to terms with who they were, but hey, according to them, every trans woman was nothing but happily awash in male privilege until they one day decided to be "newly-minted queer" and flipped a switch.

15. Not to mention that once transition is under way,  that whole male privilege thing tends to disappear pretty fast. Again, all of the poor reactions from people that can happen towards someone in their lives that transition – more negative work, family and home environments, etc. Plus, the changes in daily life, from having to be even more cautious as a woman than as a man in public to finding that men tend to talk over you now. But, please, tell us more about “male privilege” in this instance.
Oh, and women who don’t have trans history don’t disagree ever, apparently. Because only a “male” would do so? Yep, divisive.

16. When Justin “Alaska T*********k” Honard put out a video that ended with a mock execution of a trans woman critical of Mr. Charles (complete with simulated head wound), James called it a “hilarious riff.” Yes, because there is nothing more hilarious than simulated murder of trans women. I’m sure the video would be a big hit at TDOR services this fall. Again, divisive.
To Honard’s credit, he realized how wrongheaded the video was. He took it down and offered a sincere apology for it.

17. In her Boing Boing piece, James said, “Trans separatists like Molloy also spend a lot of time fighting online with lesbian separatists, some of whom reject trans lesbians the same way these trans lesbians want little to do with crossdressing or drag."
False equivalency, party of one.
The "lesbian separatists" James refers do  more than "reject trans lesbians." They attack and misgender ALL trans people, particularly women. They seek to out them. They've tried to interfere with their employment, with their medical care in some places.
I do not know, nor do I care to, Andrea James' birth name. But in the world of "lesbian separatists", she will always be that old name, she will always be a "man" and her using the ladies room "is the act of a predator."  Indeed, her very act of transition would be referred to as "rape."
There is a HUGE difference between actively seeking to deny rights to a whole group of people and attacking them offline versus wanting to have more widespread representation of trans life and to have gay men not use transphobic language.
Calling people who want the latter “trans separatists”? Yep, divisive.

18. For people who talk about others being “easily offended special snowflakes” who were “raised on smugf*****y”, they seem awfully defensive. For people who think others “seek to be offended”, they’ve made a point of saying they “talked to the producers personally” about the “Female or S*****e” segment (and not in an approving way, mind you).

19. Back to point No. 7. Part of this is generational.  One can acknowledge that things were tougher for those who transitioned, as Addams and James did, back then and for gay men like Charles. Things are nowhere near where they should be now, but they are better.
That said, there seems to be a bit of a bitter edge of “Well, I went through this, so I don’t see why you’re complaining,” as if the worse conditions of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s should remain in place.
One would hope that people would want things to be better for those who follow them down the path, just as it was better for James and Addams than it was for those who did it a generation prior, just as I hope that things keep getting better for future generations than it is for myself and others in 2014.
Even if you don’t think every younger person (or in my case, later on the transition path) isn’t showing what you feel is proper deference, that shouldn’t stop you from wanting and working to make things better, including acknowledging that your "fun words" are in fact looked upon by a lot of trans people as slurs that do hurt and maybe caring about it, rather than saying, in essence, "You don't like it? Screw you."

20. Oh, yes, I’m well aware that, as some point out elsewhere, there are greater issues – the violence, the well-above-average suicide rates, the employment and housing discrimination, etc. facing the community. Just because some things are more important doesn’t make others non-important. Just because someone speaks out on such an issue doesn’t mean they don’t care about or speak to the greater issues. I can walk and chew bubble gum at the same time and I am, shockingly, capable of caring about multiple issues. Stunning, I know.

19. As I wrote almost two months ago – “’A wise woman said, "Somewhere, somehow, there is room for all of us.’”

That still has to be the hope.
But, for now, Addams and James have created a section of the community where a vast number of trans people don't feel welcome -- not just the people who felt alienated by their often heteronormative approach before, but by people such as myself, who have to weigh what Addams and James have written in recent weeks.
In their world, I am apparently a trans woman whose opinions don't matter.
Luckily, there are plenty of other neighborhoods in the community where I do feel welcome, where I feel I would be greeted with open arms rather than middle fingers and a slap in the face.
Hopefully one day, there will be more neighborhoods that are welcoming, including theirs. But for now, I’ll continue to happily live my life and enjoy the other places in the community as well as the world at large.

Monday, April 7, 2014

"Warm Smiles, They Do Not Make You Welcome Here"

By Kara Tucker

Any minority community is, let's face it, going to be hard-pressed to live up to the "unity" part.
There are a lot of differing views, interests and personalities.
The trans community is not different, as shown by the last week by the decision of Calpernia Addams and Andrea James to attack columnist Parker Molloy over a piece Molloy wrote for the Advocate in which she mistakenly misgendered Addams.

Addams was apparently so incensed by this and so unwilling to accept an apology and correction that she waited three whole weeks to write a response that appeared at Huffington Post April 2.
James, both a long-time friend and professional partner of Addams, followed with an attack piece that appeared on two days later.
Given the delay, given the spacing of the two pieces, it becomes difficult to view the pieces as an organic response to a perceived slight and more of an organized hit. Given the contents of Addams' and James' pieces, it appears they chose to respond to a perceived slap with missile launchers, both out-of-proportion in their response to Molloy and uncaring as to who else they hit with their words.

Let's take a look at their words and explore just how problematic they could be. But first, a bit of context.
Addams worked briefly with Jared Leto when he prepared for his award-winning role as Rayon, the doomed trans woman in "Dallas Buyer's Club." That association probably didn't go over as well in the trans community at large as Addams would have hoped, given the controversial nature of the character Leto played, the fact that he was cast instead of a trans actor and his obliviousness to trans issues.
The woman herself expressed disappointment when Leto, in a post-Academy Awards interview, equated being a trans woman with "cutting your penis off."

The Advocate piece Molloy wrote talked about part of the problem was that the character of Rayon fell into the trans tropes of both overly flamboyant and doomed-to-die. The point is not that some trans women can't be flamboyant or that some don't have ultimately tragic stories, it's that that such roles appear disproportionately.
Addams and James both chose to use selected tweets by Molloy, ignoring their context. They went after one that said, "I fucking hate RuPaul," ignoring the frustration and context, that Molloy was expressing anger over both RuPaul's use of transphobic slurs and transmisogynistic material on his show, "RuPaul's Drag Race" and his refusal to engage anyone in the trans community in any way over it.
They mention another tweet, which Molloy has apologized for, about Carmen Carrera being quoted as staying trans athletes should have GCS to compete in their proper gender , conflating it out-of-context into some sort of transphobia.

Now, on to Addams' own words in her HuffPost piece (long quotes from it will be italicized).

"I wasn't sure who Molloy was, but I assumed that she was another one of the nutty trans hacktivists who had been "triggered" by the buzz generated when Jared Leto thanked me in his Oscars acceptance speech."
Nice dismissive and ableist tone there, working "nutty" and "hacktivist" into one description. Her scare quotes around the word "triggered" adds another mocking dismissive touch.
Of course, she believes that any controversy around Leto revolves around her, apparently. As mentioned, the role and the film were not universally greeted well by trans viewers.

"All these angry, attacking women seem to share certain telling characteristics. Perhaps conditioned to bully and take by a lifetime of white, heterosexual, male privilege in academia and business, these women seem to relish the co-opting of yet another source of power: Often in only a year or two, they drop the mantle of white, straight, male privilege, having wrung every benefit that a 20- to 30-year-old person can from it, and take up the currently unassailable position of being a queer female with all the zeal of a new conqueror."
So, any trans woman who disagrees with Addams is "conditioned to bully" and has "wrung every benefit" they can from white, straight male privilege. Never mind that there are trans activists who are older and been transitioned longer than Addams who disagree with her or that not everyone who disagrees with her is white.

"Those who reject the mantle of male privilege in order to join our community are to be applauded. Most who transition later in life sacrifice almost everything they've built to join us. But at any age, those who just use the gains and habits of this privilege to step in as word police and identity police should be called on it."
In an earlier paragraph, Addams says she's "not going to play Oppression Olympics", then proceeds to do exactly that. Is she implying that later transitioners are more true transsexuals than those who do it early? That late transitioners haven't had the benefits of male privilege at all while younger transitioners experience nothing but? Is she aware of the discrimination the harassment, the loss of family and relationships, the threat of violence that transitioners face at any age? Is she aware of the ending of male privilege? Is she aware that not every transitioner experienced full male privilege? Since when is suggesting having an issue with slurs a "male privilege"? Does that mean all women, cis or trans, are not allowed to do so?

"There is palpable homophobia in the language of women like Molloy when they sneeringly wield the term 'drag queen' in an attempt to destroy someone's identity. Coming from someone whose entire body of work is essentially about policing language, the hypocrisy is particularly staggering. And especially when it comes from people who've presumably lived most of their lives with the tacit approval and support of a society that viewed them as heterosexual, white men (however they truly were inside), this misplaced anti-gay language should receive the same level of criticism as something like RuPaul's use of the words 'she-male' and 'tranny.'" 

Addams fails to mention the bigger picture here, that the issue is too often, all trans women are associated with the drag culture. There are trans women who do perform in drag shows. For some, drag is the avenue who reach and/or admit who they really are. But, the majority of drag performers are not trans women, but gay men. And the majority of trans women don't do drag.
It is not homophobic to point that out.
Considering Addams herself performed for many years and has maintained some involvement in the culture, she should know that.
She should also realize that pointing out unacceptable slurs is not "word policing."

"To me it's worse, because I believe RuPaul's error is simply the tone-deaf carelessness of someone who has lived through and shaped many eras of queer and gender culture. The 'gimme that too!' victimization grab of women like Molloy comes from not having earned their place as 'inside' cultural commentators yet.

Of course, Addams is more than willing to give Mr. Charles a pass as simple "carelessness" when he has been aware of how problematic some of his work has been for some time now.
He gets credit for "shaping gender culture" when, at the end of the day, RuPaul Charles is a cisgender man who only dresses as a woman professionally. Regardless of his success, at the end of the day, it is not his place to shape trans culture. The RuPaul you see in the heels, wig and makeup on "RuPaul's Drag Race" is a character.
He is hardly the only actor to put on those things to play a character.

(From left): Tom Hanks, Martin Lawrence, Neil Patrick Harris and Eddie Murphy, all cis male actors in costume, just like RuPaul Charles.

RuPaul is not engaging in "tone-deaf carelessness", he is doing it willingly. In a 2012 interview with Michaelangelo Signorile, he talked about Lance Bass apologizing for using the word "tranny." He said, “It’s ridiculous! It’s ridiculous! I love the word ‘tranny’… and I hate the fact that Bass has apologized. I wish he would have said, ‘F-you, you tranny jerk!’”

So then, Mr. Charles is going to be consistently in favor of tossing off slurs. It's nothing, right? So when Amanda Bynes used the word "faggot", in a tweet, it should be okay, right?

So, following RuPaul's own logic, his use of terms like "tranny" and "shemale" would then be an outward projection of his own poisonous self-loathing, right?
Or is that "homophobic" for pointing that out?
Back to the last quote from Addams piece. Is Calpernia basically saying that people who are not as far in their transitions are not worthy to speak because they haven't "earned their stripes"? That their views are invalid? For someone who claims she won't "fall into the trap" of "trying to 'win' by discounting another person's struggle in favor of my own," Addams does exactly that. She completely discounts the experiences of others who have been transitioned for a shorter period of time.

"So when a few hate-filled, angry and inexperienced folks hop the fence at this late stage and try to dictate our culture rather than learn and build and participate in it, that is indeed worthy of a response. Their slurs and homophobia do not matter so much, because the impact is tempered by an understanding of the source. But our response does matter."
Ohhh, so it's a race and anyone who transitioned after Addams did in the '90s is required to sit back, say nothing and "learn." Never mind that, again, women of greater trans experience also hold the same views.
Calling out transphobia and transmisogyny on the part of gay men like RuPaul (and some of their apologists) is, sorry, NOT homophobia. Calling it such insulting to those who do and it demeans the very real issue of homophobia that exists in this country (see Mississippi's passage of a so-called "religious freedom act" last week for an example of actual homophobia in action).

James (extended quotes from her piece also italicized)
The second part of the one-two attack features James referring to Molloy, whose work has appeared in outlets like the Advocate and Rolling Stone as "part of the eyeroll-inducing hashtag activist' movement currently infecting the internet. Rants and beta male humorlessness once limited to blogs and social media are now creeping into other outlets."
"Note that James shares the similar condescending disdain Addams does for activists and writers who make use of Twitter and other social media.
Also note the not-so-subtle misgendering going on. For all the offense at the term "drag queen," Addams referred to "male privilege" and James referring to "beta male humorlessness."
It sure seems like the two are quick to basically say, "You're a dude" to the woman they feel wronged them.
Of course, given that I've been transitioning for just under two years, Addams and James would probably dismiss me as a "beta male throwing my privilege around" for pointing out their hypocrisy. So be it. My knowledge of my own womanhood is secure enough to take it.

"Ru used the word “shemale” recently on 'RuPaul’s Drag Race' and has unapologetically used a number of other taboo words over several decades, like “tranny” and what-not. Imagine that, a drag queen breaking a taboo!"
Like Adams, James sees fit to give RuPaul a free pass. It's okay to be transphobic and transmisogynist because he puts on a costume! He's "breaking a taboo!"
Let's see what kind of "taboo" Mr. Charles likes to break.
In an episode of this season's "Drag Race", there was a segment called "Female or Shemale", in which the contestants guessed based on pictures whether a woman was a "real" or "psychological" woman. This segment was offensive for implying that trans women aren't real women, that it's "in your head." Frankly, the segment had to be insulting personally to the trans women who've competed on his show, most of whom transitioned after appearing (outside of Season 5 contestant Monica Beverly Hillz, who revealed she was doing so during that season).
In fact, Carrera, an out and proud trans woman who was a Season 3 contestant on that show, didn't take kindly to the segment.
While she said she didn't believe show producers intended to be offensive, she said "'Shemale' is an incredibly offensive term, and this whole business about if you can tell whether a woman is biological or not is getting kind of old. We live in a new world where understanding and acceptance are on the rise."
Monica Beverly Hillz spoke out against it as well. "After my experience of being on the show, I would say that, to me, the use of the words 'she-male, 'ladyboy' and 'tranny' are not cute at all. I have fought, and still am fighting, for respect from society -- to be accepted as a woman and not referred to as a 'tranny' or 'she-male."
It sounds like neither woman is impressed with Charles' "breaking of taboos" in this case.
Apparently even James herself was not, either. She said, "I have personally expressed my concern about the term shemale directly to the Drag Race producers. They have issued an apology."
Of course, GLAAD talked to producers, too.
Well,  James' personal touch might be more impressive if the "apology" in question hadn't read as follows -- "We delight in celebrating every color in the LGBT rainbow. When it comes to the movement of our trans sisters and trans brothers, we are newly sensitized and more committed than ever to help spread love, acceptance and understanding."
Six show producers names put to a two-sentence, non-apology. See the words "sorry" or "apologize" in that statement? Me either.

Author Jenny Boylan, a GLAAD board member speaking as individual, not as a board member, said that the statement offered reasons to celebrate, that it was the beginning of a long process. However, she also was not exactly enthusiastic about it either.
Boylan said, "But this statement  did seem to me to be something of a non-apology, and that leaves me dispirited.  'Newly sensitized' is great— but you had to not be listening very hard to trans women in the first place to have produced a segment like this and been blind to the way it would be received."
She later added, "A stronger statement was what I had hoped for, and, given the very long time it seemed to take to deliver this statement, seemed rather anemic to me."

"It’s noteworthy that the most vocal anti-RuPaul hecklers are trans women who are primarily attracted to women. These newly-minted queers are derided as Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) by the anti-heckler movement. The burgeoning backlash forming on 4chan and Reddit mocks SJWs as privileged pseudo-activists who seek to hurt others using the hard-earned weight of actual political movements."
Where to begin what's wrong here?
First off, those critical of RuPaul are not "hecklers" and he is not above criticism.
Why is it "noteworthy" that there are trans women who are lesbian or bi who object to RuPaul's blithe use of slurs and misgendering segments like "Female or "Shemale"? Is she insinuating that they are somehow less trans than her? That because of their attractions, they hate gay men? That all lesbians and bi women hate gay men? It certainly sounds like James has issues with trans women who aren't exclusively straight.
"Newly-minted queers"..again with the sneering putdowns of someone who hasn't been transitioned as long as she and Addams have. It's a little unseemly for someone in alleged leader in trans activism to take that tack.
Apparently James hasn't bothered to look and realize that a lot of straight trans women have issues with RuPaul's transphobia and transmisogyny issues, too.
And did James really just side with folks on 4chan and Reddit? Places where, as someone put it, "tits or gtfo qualifies as social discourse?" Really? Is she that out of touch? Why stop there? Why not proclaim "YouTube comments sections are an oasis of sanity" while she was at it?  That would make as much sense.
Some of the most vile transphobia, the most vile racism and bigotry can be found on 4chan and Reddit.  But, I supposed James can ignore that because they refer to trans women who disagree with her as a term she likes -- SJWs.
Her putdowns of "privileged pseudo-activists" reek of the privilege James claims to decry. Activism can take place in may forms -- offline, online (guess she'd consider Arab Spring to be "pseudo-activist heckling") or a combination of the two.
In the next paragraph, James, ever the mature, elder leader of trans activism, refers to critics as "oversensitive precious snowflakes raised on smugfuckery" and "self-haters."
So much for the "bridge building" she talks about.

"While experienced activists seek to build bridges and establish empathy between cultures, these elitists’ ideas of success involve extracting apologies from media figures for perceived slights. This just drives intolerance underground, where it manifests in more pernicious ways, winning very few over to a new way of thinking and entrenching everyone. Witness #CancelColbert."
In James' view, using slurs to refer to people is a  "perceived slighting."
And did James seriously say it "drives intolerance underground"? With a straight face? This is yet another moment where the piece reads like something out of the Onion.
Ask Suey Park, who created the #CancelColbert hashtag, about how the intolerance was "driven underground." The woman received death threats and rape threats. She was subjected to an arrogant "interview" by Josh Zepps of Huffington Post, who basically gave her the Piers Morgan treatment.
Not to mention, that's a nice little swipe at an effort to raise awareness of bigotry against Asian people by a white woman.
This is not to say that building bridges and establishing empathy is unimportant or that it doesn't happen. But that doesn't mean everyone should sit silently and not call out transphobic and transmisogynistic behavior and language, either.

"Recent transitioners like Molloy, who did not identify as gay before transition, are more likely to have other options, but they also often have a disdain for gay and drag culture."
Actually, Molloy doesn't have a disdain for gay or drag culture. I did identify as gay before transition, but I don't either. A lot of trans wonmen don't have a disdain for gay culture or drag culture.
Drag is an art form. There are people highly skilled at the art, others not as much. RuPaul is very skilled at what he does.
That said, not every trans woman shares my view of drag, although outright hostility towards it as an art form seems to be in the minority. That doesn't make terms like "trans blackface" any less wrongheaded appropriation.
Speaking for myself here, the disdain is for the slurs and demeaning language. It's for the acts of gay men who dismiss trans women as "unable to take a joke" when they'd often be the first ones to dislike homophobic slurs thrown in their direction. It's for when cis gay men who throw the slurs around when they're not theirs to "reclaim."
It's also for when some LG people seem to have no problem throwing trans people under the bus on equality issues or when some of them seek to erase trans people from the history of the equality movement (ahem, Stonewall).
The disdain is for the acts, acts that deserve opposition, not quietly sitting back while "real activists do the work."
For all of James' talk of "separatists," it seems like she and Addams are the ones doing the separating.

"If it’s a choice between siding with the language police and siding with offensive artists, I’ll always side with the artist willing to risk the consequences of making an offensive joke. The right to offend people is a cornerstone of the LGBT movement, and I will always defend anyone who offends our community’s finger-wagging schoolmarms. Every movement and community needs jesters."
So, then, considering that there are people out there who feel trans folk wanting lives where they don't get fired, harassed or violently attacked for being trans is "offensive," but what we really need are jesters.
Again, this isn't about "drag culture", it's about how it can be better. It's about how cis gay men should not get to interject themselves into the discussion simply because they dress up for pay.
Boylan, in her online response to the RuPaul producers' statement said, "The discourse around trans lives has, in many ways, moved on past RuPaul and this show.  I can say this even while celebrating the energy in drag that so many of us applaud.But trans women’s noble, complex, difficult, joyous lives should not be confused with the lives of drag performers, and this simple fact seems to elude many of the folks behind this program.  This gruesome episode represented a real tipping point for lots of trans people,  who have grown weary of their lives being reduced to a cartoon."

"Trans separatists like Molloy also spend a lot of time fighting online with lesbian separatists, some of whom reject trans lesbians the same way these trans lesbians want little to do with crossdressing or drag."
False equivalency, party of one.
The "lesbian separatists" James refers do do more than "reject trans lesbians." They attack and misgender ALL trans people, particularly women. They seek to out them. They've tried to interfere with their employment, with their medical care in some places.
I do not know, nor do I care to, Andrea James' birth name. But in the world of "lesbian separatists", she will always be that old name, she will always be a "man" and her using the ladies room "is the act of a predator."
There is a HUGE difference between actively seeking to deny rights to a whole group of people and attacking them offline and wanting to have more widespread representation and to have gay men not use transphobic language.
Of course, again, James seems to think the only trans women who disagree with her, Addams and RuPaul. What problem does she have with lesbians? Given her incorrect assertion that she keeps going back to, it's a reasonable question.

James keeps up her double-barreled attack on Molloy, not caring who else she insults in the process. But why is that?
Perhaps one can look to a section where she reveals she "complained privately" to editor Lucas Grindley about Molloy's original piece and "patiently explained things" to him.
She said if she did something that, in her view would be similar. "It would be neither journalistic nor ethical, and more reputable editors would consider it a firing offense. Grindley has refused to speak with me by phone, and has refused to meet with me in person, and has refused to let me run an op-ed (hence this piece). I tried every avenue to resolve this dispute like professional journalists."
So, that's what it comes down to. James was one of the people who talked with "RuPaul's Drag Race" producers. A tepid non-apology resulted.  That was okay.
When the Advocate editor didn't respond to James' complaints with proper genuflection, she went elsewhere to publish a hit piece that is loaded with multiple levels of wrongness that obscure whatever legitimate greater points she could have made.
Addams' piece read as misguided, incomplete and wrong, but it lacked the full-on viciousness James was perfectly willing to traffic in.

Addams finished her piece by saying, "You choose your community's voices and heroes. You choose your entertainers, your thinkers and your fighters. Make those choices. And if somebody is making your world a worse place, call 'em on it."
Okay, Ms. Addams, consider it done.
With all due respect to what Addams and James have done for the community, their columns painted themselves less as leaders and more as petty people with axes to grind.
Molloy, while her passion has led to some intemperate moments, remains a skilled writer with the desire to learn and the capacity to grow into an even stronger voice.
The question now is whether Addams and James will, like Molloy has done, look in the mirror and ask themselves if they can be better, if they can keep learning and growing.

A wise woman said, "Somewhere, somehow, there is room for all of us."
That still has to be the hope.
But, for now, Addams and James have created a section of the community where a vast number of trans people don't feel welcome -- not just the people who felt alienated by their often heteronormative approach before, but by people such as myself, who have to weigh Addams and James by what they wrote last week.
In their world, I am apparently a trans woman whose opinons don't matter, because I'm bi, because I haven't been in transition as long as they have, because I don't blindly support Mr. RuPaul Charles. For all his charity work (which has raised vast sums of money in the fight against AIDS), for as skilled as he as in his craft, he can do better.
Thank goodness that today, there are many other neighborhoods in the trans community, so I can go where women like myself are welcome.
Hopefully one day, there will be more.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

"I'm Not Aware Of Too Many Things, I Know What I Know, If You Know What I Mean"

By Kara Tucker

Just this morning, I posted my views on two days' worth of Piers Morgan and Janet Mock here.
One aspect mentioned in passing in that piece was the belief of others that Morgan is a great LGBT ally. That view seems to be expressed mostly by the LGB part of the acronym.
Today, America Blog editor John Aravosis, a long-time gay advocate, weighed in.
As you can see, just from the headline, Aravosis is not on the same page as a lot of folks with the T in LGBT.
The initial Morgan interview was not "amazingly pro-transgender."
It is not "amazingly pro-transgender" to put a graphic that says "was a boy until age 18" for entirely length of the entire interview.
It is not "amazingly pro-transgender" to ask a question about informing a partner of your trans history and basically framing it as part of a "you were a dude!" narrative.
It is not "amazingly pro-transgender" to tell a trans woman that she is so pretty that you can't tell she's trans. It's problematic. It would be problematic if someone interviewing Aravosis said, "Just talking to you, I'd never be able to know you're gay."
Aravosis has a checkered history when it comes to his views on trans issues, most notably when he threw the trans community under the bus on ENDA in 2007. But, that was over six years. People can learn, grow and evolve, perhaps educate themselves about the role trans women played at Stonewall.
But if he believes that the initial interview was "amazingly pro-transgender" or, as he puts it here...

...then he clearly has more to learn.
True, there's no denying that Morgan used words like "courageous" and "remarkable", but in context of a narrative that isn't as gushing as Aravosis claims.
The author also betrays a lack of understanding of how the situation unfolded, saying "But those comments earned Morgan a multi-day harangue online, and utter evisceration from trans-right advocates and Mock herself.
To call what Mock said "utter evisceration" is to have no clue as to what the term means. Mock was pointing out that the characterization and how the story was packaged was incorrect and incomplete.
Aravosis talks about what he suspects what trans people are thinking, but admits that he has no idea what Janet Mock was unhappy about.
He refers to another recent interview in which the host, Katie Couric, also had some problematic moments.
stepped in
In Aravosis' view, Couric was "attacked for doing a different interview with a trans woman that was, again, incredibly supportive."
Couric meant well, but she also fell into the trap of focusing too much on the genitals and surgery. To gloss it off such questioning as what "most people think about" when it comes to trans people is to be rather reductive to trans people's humanity.
It's one thing to have it be part of the story, but there's a point where one wants to say, "Okay, can we move on now?"
I'm sure Aravosis would be less than thrilled if an interviewer, no matter how "brave and remarkable" they called him, kept pressing him about his personal tastes, right down to his favorite positions, in the bedroom since it seems like that's the extent of a lot of people's views about how gay men live their lives.
What's more important -- what's under Laverne Cox's dress or the efforts she's doing to tell the story of CeCe McDonald?
I realize that gay rights and the knowledge of gay people's lives is farther ahead than the discussion of trans rights and trans people's rights, but at some point, we have to move past Trans 101. The teaching moments can only happen if people actually learn.
Mock's tweets actually could have been a teachable moment, had Morgan actually listened instead of insisting he was right.
Therein lies another problem with Aravosis' piece, he leaves it at the first interview and the reaction of Mock and other trans folk.
He glosses over Morgan firing back at Mock, at his calling trans folk who questioned him "STUPID" (all caps) and "dimwits" and he doesn't even talk about the follow-up interview.
The piece was posted at 3:48 p.m. Thursday, the day after Mock's second appearance.
Aravosis seemed to excuse Morgan's response on Twitter, telling another user, "In all seriousness, what happens is that you have like 200 people be dicks to you, then when you finally get dicky in response..everyone only sees that one tweet of yours, and says, man you're being a dick."
He also said, "He just did the biggest softball interview in history, and got blasted for it, so I'm not surprised that he responded a bit annoyed."
Judging by Aravosis' written words in the piece, Mock was an eviscerator while Morgan was besieged and his response was unsurprising because...

In other words, Morgan didn't need to paint himself the victim, Aravosis is doing it for him.
The piece doesn't bother to examine that trans-free panel discussion in which three non-trans people, included a man on record calling a trans rights bill sick and proper care of trans children "child abuse" having a loud voice.
In the end, the article reads as one long bit of tone policing. Aravosis says most of America doesn't know about trans people (he's right) and that he doesn't know everything (right again).
But that doesn't stop him from telling the people he doesn't know about fully how to act, even though he doesn't understand their lives, their truths. He's content to call Morgan a "staunch ally" (talk about throwing a softball) and say those who dare criticize him are "ripping (Morgan's) head off."
Another Twitter user asked Aravosis about it. He responded.
Well, forgive me, but it doesn't strike me as particularly "pro-trans" to completely mischaracterize how Mock and Morgan acted and to not write about the story as a whole, ignoring the second night altogether.
Aravosis might have moved forward and learned about trans people since 2007, but he has farther to go. A lot farther.
I hope I wasn't too "eviscerating" in saying that.

La, La, La Means I'm Not Listening To You

By Kara Tucker

It have been should be a shining moment for the community, shining a light on the lives of trans people, of trans women, of trans women of color -- not as stereotypes, punchlines, tropes, but as fully realized human beings.
Janet Mock, is an author, speaker and trans activist.  She has written a book, "Redefining Realness,"  which came out Tuesday that talks about her life to this point.
Mock was booked for an appearance to talk about the book, a standard promotional appearance that was hardly standard. Trans women don't get such bookings regularly, trans women of color, even less.
To do the interview requires someone who does not possess intelligence, but sensitivity and a desire to learn, not pruriently, but as a decent human being. It requires someone who views a woman like Mock as a woman, not a concept or curiosity.
That's the interviewer a story like this requires. Instead, Mock got former U.K. tabloid journalist Piers Morgan.
Well, you can take the man out of the tabloid, but you can't take the tabloid out of the man.

Morgan interviewed Mock five days prior to it airing on February 4, after the plans to have her appear live were changed by news events that week.
The interview made Morgan look like a man who had not read the book. It made it look like whoever was supposed to read it for him and supply question points hadn't read the book.
Morgan's interviewing betrayed a level of understanding of trans issues that seemed decades out of date.
He seemed to have the notion of her being a boy or a man, when Mock has made it clear that she was not. That she was assigned male at birth, something she had no control over.
Morgan betrayed an ignorance of the process of transition, referring to Mock "living as a boy" until she went to "Thailand for the surgery."
Mock pointed out that it was an ongoing journey over many years, with her true self emerging from a very young age.
Morgan tried to be, in his view, complimentary. He said, "This is the amazing thing about you- had I not known anything about your story, I would have had absolutely not a clue that you had ever been a boy, a male, which makes me absolutely believe you should always have been a woman.”
This was not a compliment, any more than it would have been if he'd said, "You know. When I heard you speak, before I saw you and knew your story, I would have never known you were black. You're so well-spoken."
It was not complimentary to Mock like he thought and it was downright insulting to trans women overall. The implication is that, if you're passable, you are truly trans.
Passability varies and is relative. It is something that can often require a lot of work, even additional surgeries, to achieve. It can come down to luck. It also doesn't have a damn thing to do with whether a person is actually trans.
I'm no fashion model, but I realize that the level of passability I do have is due to genetic luck. I have exactly the same facial features as my mother. If I had the same (and much less feminine) facial features as my father, would that make me any less trans? No.
Being trans is who we are, not how we look.

He used Mock's former name more than once as well, furthering the assertion that she was "male" before. He asked about telling her boyfriend, Aaron, about her trans history. That could have led to at least a mention of the larger issue of how men are often shamed for their attraction to trans women, a shaming that can lead to violence against a trans women.
Instead it felt more like it was forcing the "used to be a dude" narrative.
Trans people face disproportionate risk of violence of suicide than the general population. Trans women of color are even more at disproportionate risk of violence at the hands of others. Discrimination on housing and and employment are very real issues.
Two segments is not enough time to touch on those issues in depth, but to not mention them at all was a disappointment.
The interview felt like something that could have been seen on "Donahue" in 1982, with less sensitivity and depth.

There were moments where you could see that Mock appeared to be less than 100 percent pleased than the interview, but she kept focused and maintained the higher ground.
Mock was less pleased on seeing how the interview was presented. The most egregious part was the fact that someone in the production room insisted on slapping this graphic onscreen for the entire length of the interview.

That's right, although, Morgan was quick to compliment Mock her fitting his version of womanhood appearance-wise, the graphic stayed on screen to undercut the message that she is a woman. She was misgendered the whole time.
All in all, the interview showed that Morgan and the producers possessed a certain level of ignorance. That's unfortunate, but it's something that could be a teaching moment.
That graphic prompted the first of three tweets from Mock once the interview aired Tuesday night.
It read, ""Was a boy until 18." @PiersMorganLive get it the f*k together. #redefiningrealness"
A second followed, saying, "@PiersMorganLive I was not "formerly a man." Pls stop sensationalizing my life and misgendering trans women. #redefiningrealness"
One more tweet came a short time later, this time with a picture of Janet Mock and Laverne Cox from "Orange is the New Black."

Morgan, who's engaged in feuds with celebrities before, most notably Madonna, did not take kindly to Mock's criticism.
His attitude was one of, "I put you on my show! You should be grateful!" He misgendered her again and took to criticizing people who brought up the problematic issues in the interview. He accused Mock of falsely fueling a sense of him being transphobic when, it fact, it was the interview as a whole that led that sense. He accused her of treating him in "a disgraceful manner" and that he was "played in a disgustingly cynical manner."
Pot, meet kettle.
Of course, Morgan didn't acknowledge that, by tweeting his opinion, others would feel free to express blatant 100 percent transphobic opinions in support of him.
For example...

Of course, rather than listen to why Mock, or a lot of other trans folks were displeased, he immediately painted himself as the aggrieved party.
Morgan tweeted, "As for all the enraged transgender supporters, look at how STUPID you're being. I'm on your side, you dimwits."
Yes, nothing says "being a good ally" like failing to listen to the person and then insulting those who point that out.

Wednesday, it was announced that Mock would appear on Morgan's show to discuss the controversy and the issues raised.
During the day, however, Morgan showed that sleeping on it didn't change his mind any.
In fact, most notable, was this tweet -- "I fear I am now a victim of 'cisphobia'."
Morgan was clearly moving from simply ignorant into willfully ignorant.

The host was not, and is not, a victim in anyway. "Cisphobia" is not a thing. Trans people didn't suddenly gain power overnight. No one has been forced to salute your new trans overlords.
Yes, Piers Morgan, you, are a victim of "cisphobia." It must have been so difficult to lose your job and home because you're cis. It's awful that you were the victim of violent crime because you're cis. It's a shame that you lost your friends and family once they found out you were cis.
It was a faulty tweet, but one that clearly played into the narrative Morgan was going to push on Mock's return appearance. In his mind, HE was the wronged one, tweeting, "I agree there should be an apology made re my interview with @janetmock - and I expect her to make it to me on air tonight."
Sure enough, Morgan asserted that he was "targeted for vicious abuse." Piers Morgan is The Victim, ladies and gentleman.
The host missed the disconnect between saying that he was a big boy, he can handle it and spending a good 15 minutes or so of the show on the topic because he couldn't handle it.
Morgan also blamed Mock for the negative response he'd seen, because in his mind, three tweets was "egging on."
I hate to break it to Mr. Morgan, who's probably now enrolling himself in a support group for victimized talk show hosts, but people are capable of watching the segment and making up their own minds. We are not some hivemind waiting for Janet Mock's direction.
I'm not Janet Mock and I wanted to throw something at my television because of the constant presence of the "Was a boy" graphic onscreen.
Morgan also seemed obsessed with a piece in Marie Claire, written in May 2011, in which Mock came out publicly. The headline, which she didn't write, read "I was born a boy" and in a couple of instances, Mock made reference to that.
She also has written since, on more than once occasion, that the "was a boy" references in the initial piece were not an accurate reflection of her journey. In fact, all Morgan and/or the show staffer had to do was read Mock's introduction to her book, where she talks about it.
Or, put another way, as she responded when Morgan asked who she was born as -- "I was born a baby."

In addition to painting himself as the victim, the host seemed perplexed that he was being questioned at all on trans issues. He said he still supported Mock and trans rights, although he mentioned trans rights AFTER he mentioned gay rights and gay marriage rights. He seems to be very proud of his support of gay rights.
Morgan has supported marriage equality, vociferously at times. That is true. But that doesn't mean he doesn't have more to learn and it doesn't automatically make him, as one person who he retweeted Wednesday night called him -- "Piers is the Greatest advocate we LGBT community have."

Mock explained why she didn't say something to Morgan during or after the first interview. Aside from not seeing the constant "was a boy" graphic, she said she was scared and that she "wanted to be a cordial guest."
Morgan seemed unwilling to address his privilege, aside from one acknowledgement that he had been fortunate in his own life. He took what should have been a story about more important issues and made it all about him.
The sad part is that he is not unintelligent. He is capable of being a good ally and he does have the platform to do so.
But what he lost is the idea that being an ally does not automatically mean he is not above criticism, that being an ally requires listening and, let's face it, getting out of the way so that those you're an ally of can tell their stories.
Towards the end of the interview, things took an unfortunate turn when Morgan decided to lecture Mock a little, saying, "let me give you some advice."
She immediately responded, "I don't need advice. I don't need advice."
That didn't stop the host, who told Mock that the next time she was on a show like that and she was dissatisfied to speak up immediately after.
So, there you have it. The potential teaching moment ended with a wealthy, white cis man lecturing a trans woman of color how to behave like a proper talk show guest.

That could have been all, except Morgan decided to continue talking about the story with Mock no longer present. After all, it's easier to discuss a trans woman's feelings and actions when she's not on the set. In fact, when there are no trans people on set.
The three panelists were all cis. Amy Holmes, anchor for the Blaze Hot List, political commentator Marc Lamont Hill and conservative host Ben Ferguson.
Of the four, only Hill seemed to get it, pointing out that trans identity doesn't rely on surgery. He also pointed out how Morgan's defensive stance made him sound, saying his protestations sounded like “when white people point to the number of black friends they have."
Holmes said that Mock shouldn't have been upset because being trans itself is sensationalistic, thus negating any other aspect of Mock's life. She, bizarrely, added, there were "plenty of black women in the building who'd be glad to be on (Morgan's) show."
Was Holmes implying that somehow Mock didn't know her place? Was she implying that other African-American women wouldn't be offended if Morgan had acted in similar fashion to them?
Holmes was nothing compared to Ferguson, who has established his transphobia, calling treating trans children as who they are, with respect and dignity, "child abuse."
Wednesday, Ferguson did his level best to dehumanize Mock, basically yelling a variation of "She was a man! Doctors agree! Science! Boy! Boy! Boy!" to deny her identity. He called Mock's response "fake outrage."
For the most part, he shouted down the others and his views were unchallenged.

Viewers were left wondering why there was no trans person at all on the panel and why, after claiming how supportive he was of Mock, Morgan let Ferguson spew his fact-free (hint: doctors and science as a whole do NOT agree with the him, not anywhere close) views without countering them.
It was hard to escape the belief that Piers "I support gay rights! I'm a good ally" Morgan had sandbagged Mock.
That's a shame because, even as uncomfortable as it could be to watch, Mock held her own. In the right show setting, she could have gotten more points.
In fact, she already had, on the Melissa Harris-Perry show the previous weekend.

But instead, Janet Mock became just another part in the declining journalistic fortunes of CNN. There's John King's "brown-skinned man" report, there were Upworthy-style teasers for stories about rape and murderthe misgendering of Chelsea Manning (complete with a panelist's joke about Manning being raped in prison) or the fact that somebody at the network thought this was an actual topic to debate during the George Zimmerman trial.

Hint: It's the one you can't use in your graphic, CNN.
As much as this story should have been about "Redefining Realness," it instead showed more about the ongoing Redefinition of CNN.
That's a shame, but Mock is undeterred. A lot of other folks are undeterred. More stories out there will be told. More voices will be heard. People will hear more and more of the full spectrum of who trans people are like, that they are more than their genitals or the name they used to have.
Even if two days' worth of appearances of Piers Morgan's show represent somewhat of a missed opportunity, it will not be the only opportunity.  One only hopes it's soon.
And one can only hope that the next opportunity has a host better equipped for the task.