Dear Pop Culture: Leave TransFolk Alone!
Ok, so am I the only one who really would prefer it if pop culture would leave transfolks the fuck alone? I’m not saying I don’t want our folks in media, quite the opposite, I want our faces, our stories, our experiences out there; I want visibility for our people. That said, there is a difference between visibility (which I define as socialized educational promotion of our community and cause) and simple exploitation or just plain annoying stereotyping.
Pop Culture often will poke fun at or provide cameos for community leaders or performers that it respects. And if this were what was happening for transfolks, to for example have Kate Bornstein on TV, that’d be awesome. But that isn’t what happens. I am so sick of non-trans media outlets feeling that they have the right to represent us when they don’t have a clue about what they are doing. This isn’t just a trans issue, is a problem for all groups outside the privileged minority, but I’m trans so I’m gonna talk about trans stuff. The reason why transfolks (and queers) are included in media is because we are considered weird and fascinating. We’re an interesting hook. Many people take it as a compliment when, to repeat previous sentiments, Pop Culture throws us a bone with a “its better than nothing” mentality. Me, I would rather be ignored than have to deal with mainstream adaptations of my people based on what outsiders think we are.
This week, The Simpsons, an old school favorite of mine (until it stopped being funny around season 20, but I still love the old episodes) has finally got on the culture-crash band wagon and making jokes about trans folk. I have to admit that unlike last years’ Family Guy disaster, the Simpsons trans cameo was far from monstrous, but it wasn’t anything to cheer about.
(Note: You think its a coincidence that that one women looks like Winne from the Kinsy Sicks?) I have to admit as an activist I thought the little rally was cute, but I am left feeling confused, wondering about the intent. To me, I see a cute little community rally portrayed, with queers and other ‘queer’ groups – but I’m a radical queer and see this as my community. To others – the creators included perhaps – I’m sure that they saw one ‘freak’ community(transfolks) and then wanted to continue to highlight how weird and strange queers are by adding other “weird” things like the Furries and the “1900s style gays”. Were they trying to make fun of Furry communities too? Possibly the Simpsons’ intent was to humanize these communities, but it isn’t clear to me. Why include Furries (who aren’t expressly ‘gay’ by the way) but not Leather? And I can’t help but laugh at the episode’s androcentric gay community with 1 lesbian (Selma). I definitely recognized our community in this in the stereotype promoted here: that all transfolk are trying to pass inside a cultural mirror of gender conformity. And maybe its because this is a real life problem for us that I was irked to see it used by non-trans people to crack a joke for a primarily non-trans audience. Yeah, we have a hard time, thanks for laughing at our troubles – and what’s worse, not even knowing or caring how it affects us.
I definitely do not think that non-trans or non queer people can not or should not be a part of the trans movement. What I do think is that when it comes to representation, best leave it to the community OR at the very least educate yourself before doing something stupid or offensive. But Pop Culture doesn’t do that. It just throws us in because we are interesting or funny or fascinating, and that’s fucking bullshit. Am I reading too much into this mostly harmless clip? Honestly, part of me thinks I am, but the rest of me is saying that every little bit helps, or hurts. And if we don’t play watchdog for ourselves, who else is going to do it? It is not impossible for the media to get it right, for example the trans character on Degrassi (Canadian show, go figure) is widely recognized to be a good adaptation. So clearly the issue here is lack of trying. Pop Culture doesn’t care about actually representing, they just want to exploit. Surprise, surprise. The continual usage of the trans community as an community clown or freak act plays into our dehumanization, not the other way around.