Tokenized: Now With Twice The Transmisogyny
Submission by Sylvia Renee, TNG contributor
If I may preach ineffectually to the choir again – I thought it would be tough to top the transphobia of the SNL skit. One of the ads from the Super Bowl Hand-Egg Championship was pretty bad, but it just didn’t make me want to go on a killing spree like that other one.
And then I came across Craig Ferguson’s “half sister Peg,” who is apparently a re-occurring character that I had, until recently, been blissfully unaware existed.
Yes, I could talk about the man in a dress trope. I could talk about the explicit comment Peg’s body is so undesirable that no one would want to see it. Or the fact that not even the host wanted to have any kind of physical contact, lest he be infected or otherwise contaminated. I could talk about how the character is portrayed as a sexual offender vis-a-vis a penchant for public masturbation. I could talk about the fact that the actor felt the need to show their genitals to really drive home the point that under all the clothes, mannerisms, and experiences that there is really just a set of testicles and a penis. I could even talk about how the character went as far as to actually wear black face, because really, where is the line between one minstrel show and another?
Sure I could talk about all of those things. But honestly, it is just the same old tired transphobic and transmisogynistic bullshit where the only punchline punching bag is that trans folk, and especially trans women, are not entitled to the same kinds of human dignity that others can expect in their day to day lives.
Instead, I want to discuss two things. The first is why this shit matters.
When I was just a kid learning about my sense of self, the only trans women I saw were depicted as freaks on things like Jerry Springer, Maurry, any of the other day time trash. I thought that if I tried to be authentically me then people would only be able to see me as a man in a dress, and more over, that I could never be anything more than that.
I thought I would never be able to have some one address me as “Miss.” I thought that I would never be able to leave my house without being laughed at by some ethereal laugh track that would follow my every step. I thought that no one would ever be able to love me because of who I was. And so, thinking that I could only ever be a man in a dress, I tried to kill myself. And when it didn’t work the first time, I tried again. And again. And again. By the time I got to high school I could tie a noose in three seconds.
Years later, a potential employer told me that they could never hire someone who the customers might see as a man-in-a-dress. The same thing happened with the next hundred applications.
The second is the general reaction that I have gotten from last week’s piece, which essentially amounts to “But its funny! You just don’t have a sense of humor about yourself. People make fun of things all the time.” No. It isn’t funny. At all. But beyond that, it is not up to non-trans woman to say whether such a depiction is funny or not.
Would you tell a black woman that she cannot be outraged at the blatant usage of a Welfare Queen, a Mammy, a Jezebel, or a Sapphire? Can an indigenous person object to a horribly racist caricature, such as the ubiquitous sports mascot? Such one dimensional representations do not satirize “our” collective understanding of race, just as man-in-a-dress does not challenge beliefs about gender. Instead these images further solidify and reconfirm existing ideas about what those categories mean. The images may even be “funny” to some senses of humor but at the end of the day those who are depicted have an epistemic privilege to understand what they actually represent. Or at least they should.
At the end of the day, being gay, gay friendly, or any other identity under this tenuous alliance of identities does not give you an automatic pass to endorse transphobia. Nor does it give you the right to tell me that I am being overly sensitive and that I should just lighten up. These kinds of images have real consequences – especially when there are no positive depictions anywhere to counter act them.
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