Trans Role Models Chosen by Non-Trans People?

This is one of my rare less-professional rant posts that I could not not write, even though I’m supposed to be headed out the door for a gig in Columbus. So please excuse any typos or less than well rounded points. Today, I had only been awake for an hour and already 2 things had offended me.

1) a queer blog posted Lady Gaga’s new racist, queer-disempowering song as if it was something to cheer about. Come on, community! Get it together! If you ACTUALLY listen to it the lyrics, or have decent politics, you will hear how racist and pitying-queer it is. Do I need to go into how tired I am of people idolizing icons who don’t know queer from quack? No? Ok, I’ll move on.

2) a trans blog posted THIS article about trans role models.

First it opens up with some snarky comment about how the “role models” presented are not “going to be telling you to stay off of drugs in the near future.” WTF? How do you know these people use drugs (like it matters). Plus, it completely delegitimizes the people its supposed to be praising before the article even starts, essentially calling them wild, crazy drug users. Stigma and stereotype says what? Second, what’s with the “traditional” vs. “non-traditional” word play? The only thing “non-traditional” about the people listed is that they are trans. All are activists, artists, and writers, doing what all other activists, artists, and writers do, they are just trans while doing it – which is apparently SO non-traditional. Us trans folks have only been around since the beginning of humanity, but yeah we’re breaking those boundaries! But its an article about trans people so why is it using language that puts us in the ‘other’ box? Well, it is written by a non-trans person who, from what I can find has a stellar career in sex positive work but has NO background in trans activism or writing. Exoticize much?

You start to read and see the expected folks- Sylvia Rivera, Kate Bornstein, then WHAT? Thomas Beatie?? Ok, he stood up to adversity; gave birth and publicized it in an attempt to quash the idea that it isn’t ok for transguys, or men, to do so. (I still think he’s a little press hungry…) But he also lives a cushy life in the Pacific Northwest, is rolling in money from his books… I don’t see him making any statements about ENDA or founding educational movements, creating groundbreaking art, or marching on Washington. (CORRECTION: So I fucked up and in my rapid rant post I didn’t look into Beatie enough, and he has done lots of activist work. Apologies.) I donno, when I think trans-activist, Oprah appearances is not what comes to mind. Maybe someday, but not today.  I think comparing someone like Sylvia Rivera, who lived their whole life on the streets working in the shit of the system for trans rights and created a legacy for trans and queer youth, CAN NOT be fairly compared to someone who birthed his own kids in a media circus. (too harsh?) And I recognize this article is in the “GLBT Teens” (anyone else get irked when its GLBT and not LGBT? I think it should be TBLG) and because its for teens they may be trying to show variety of professions. It does not however, show a wide variety of trans folks. For the main transguy to be Thomas Beatie? I totally respect Murry Hill, I just have never heard or found any info that he identifies as a transguy per se so that is why I don’t include him here. AND that Beatie would be listed before Murry Hill, who has worked in this movement for decades, is another insult. Another transmasculine spectrum person is showcased,  a 17 year old vblogger who I am sure is totally awesome – their stuff looks awesome. I am in no way saying they should not be listed. Its good for young people to see other young people being awesome. But hopefully even they would admit that there are other transmasculine folks also worth highlighting to inspire youth like S. Bear Bergman or Dean Spade. And speaking of me naming two white people…

There is only ONE person of color on this list. One out of seven. There are countless, amazing POC trans activists – to name a couple favorites: Miss Major, Ignacio Rivera, and Pauline Park – who I want to marry someday. And this list has no genderqueer or gender non-conforming representation on it. Again, I don’t know exactly how Murry Hill identifies himself but in all my community connections I have never heard that he is GQ. But where are all the non-binary kids gonna look when they want a role model? I just had a conversation with a young person last night about how hard it was for them to grapple with their identity because they had no genderqueer role model. Maybe they stumbled upon this article.

I’m not saying this is what happened, but what it looks like is that the author just did a google search for trans folks and threw up what they got. I think if people want a list of trans role models maybe they should let trans people write it? Or at least someone who is an active member of the trans-ally community (cause I know tons of non-trans folks who would write a better article than me!) If I was a young trans/GQ I would not have been empowered by this article at all. No nice try about.com, but better luck next time. Maybe you should check out my blog roll for some trans blogger role models to aspire towards.

10 comments

  • I’ve noticed a lack of role models for genderqueer and trans people. There are a few good blogs out there (such as this) and there are books by Kate and a few others. But then all I see are people in the 13-35 age range. For as inspiring as peers can be, it’s also nice to be able to see those who have been around a while be visible. Perhaps it’s a generation gap in how people use the internet.

    • thanks for posting! I agree that there is not a lot of visibility for trans role models above the age of 35, but they do exist in high numbers! I think that the issue is not that our community is lacking these role models, but that the many that exist are not recognized as they should be and that, as you said, there is a generational gap that affects us in many ways, technology may be one of them.

  • Regarding Thomas Beatie, you say, “But he also lives a cushy life in the Pacific Northwest, is rolling in money from his books… I don’t see him making any statements about ENDA or founding educational movements, creating groundbreaking art, or marching on Washington.”

    You think the guy is rolling in dough from a book? Have you read the book? He was successful being an entrepreneur well before ever starting a family. It’s been publicized that he made zero money from his book and his media appearances in the US. Also, you have no idea about Beatie’s past- he’s a staunch GLBT community activist who has fought many years for social justice. He and his wife lobbied legislators and helped pass a hate crimes law in Hawaii- as well as were on numerous GLBT org committees. He was part of the state’s school system anti-discriminatory committee. He may not have marched on Washington, but he marched 110 miles for 1 week around the island of Oahu for justice. If you haven’t heard, he’s been blacklisted from the GLBT community for some of the same assumptions you post. The man and his family helped put trans on the map for the WORLD! He is a positive representation for the community AND the idea of family. He’s the perfect poster transman. He’s eloquent and in delivery of powerful message. You have no idea how many minds he’s opened and lives he’s changed for the better. Oh yeah, and there is monumental artwork based upon him. Try the marble statue of him in London! He’s 37. So, he does not represent the teeny-boppers. Age is irrelevant. The man is a freaking hero. His legacy wil be known for a very long time.

    • Hi Jeremy,
      I agree with you that Thomas Beatie has had a lot of undeserved oppressions to deal with because he is a visible trans birth-parent. I think that ‘blacklisting’ in any community is unacceptable behavior. We are all in this together. My intention was not to state that Beatie’s work was invalid or that he himself was not a valuable member of our community. I admit that in my haste of writing this post I did not look into Beatie’s history as an activist and I will correct that. Thank you for holding me accountable. That said, here I am reflecting my own personal ideals for a representative list of our community’s role models. What my choices are may not be the same for others, and that’s ok! I do not believe it is possible to have a “perfect poster transman” because we all are different with different ideals, different needs, and different experiences. I don’t know who “teeny-boppers” is referring to… Young people? Older people? Mainstream people? Non-mainstream people? You yourself said age was irrelevant and with that statement, I would think that whoever these teeny-boppers are, they are surely just as valid as anyone else in our community, and need to be included too.

  • @jeremy
    I don’t have any issue with Thomas Beatie being “the pregnant man” but I also wouldn’t of list him on my list of top trans role models. And if anyone appealed to “teeny-boppers” it would be him because he IS more mainstream.

  • I didn’t get much use out of that Casey kid, because she figured for a half a year in high school that she was trans, made a couple videos about trans oppression and whatnot, then went back entirely to living as a female, attributing her ‘trans phase’ to confusion about being bisexual, and then deleted her channel (obviously there are a few videos still floating around, but most of the stuff that’s left makes no mention of trans anything and talks about cutting and stuff). Not that she doesn’t have the right to do any of that and that that’s not part of her journey (and I don’t know when this article was written), it just irked me that someone so…well…flaky was written about in an article as a “Transgender role model you should know about”.

  • Trans families being seen by the mainstream population has never happened. The general public sees trans people as a bunch of deviants with no family values; that trans people are doomed to a fate of being childless. Some people don’t even know FTMs exist and if they do exist, they all have fully functioning penises to be considered men. The assimilated ones can hide altogether, ovaries, uteruses, and all. Beatie was assimilated, but stuck his neck out and compromised his masculine gains and peoples’ blind assumptions of his sex purely for the dream of family. He has educated people that you can be a man without XY chromosomes (though I can’t vouch for Beatie’s genes. I can only assume.) He and wife couldn’t adopt. They couldn’t hire a surrogate due to fertility specialists discriminating against him. His wife couldn’t carry a child. He made a huge sacrifice. And guess what? He no longer assimilates because the entire world knows of his history. It’s human nature to do this. He smashed gender expectations and the dichotomy of gender, while appearing wholesome and loving and intelligent. In my circles, people have changed their lives and renewed their faith in the pursuit of happiness and being true to oneself. He’s my hero- not because he is trans (can’t think of a non-GLBT I admire more), but because he has fought for the human spirit.

  • sorry, but i really don’t think that thomas beatie was forced to go public with his decision to give birth. going on the news isn’t required in order to have kids.

  • Thomas Beatie was thrust into the media after he wrote his article. The news talked about him. He wasn’t on the news. Do you know how many articles are written everyday? Do you see the world making a fuss about the lives of millions of authors? Nope. This story was a fascination of sorts. I’m glad Thomas decided to speak in the public after the media made a big deal out of him. It took balls for him to do it and he really educated lots of people.

  • yeah but he wasn’t forced into any of the media appearances. that’s all i’m saying. no one held a gun to his head and said go on oprah. Not saying he didn’t do well, just saying it wasn’t required. I don’t see why everyone is getting so bent out of shape about Thomas Beatie, a very small part of this post. sheesh!

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