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.

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