Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Problematic Media Representations

I need to comment on media, and the ways that the ill informed public precede to understand transsexuality, transgenderism and the trans experience.
I must say that first off, I have benefited from the time and space in which I am who I am. I live on the west coast and have begun transitioning in the 21st century. Even dealing with medical professionals for whom I am their first trans patient, I am not required to write the book for them. They have heard of transsexualism before. Common patient care plans are accessible, a standard of care does exist, not saying that either of these are conclusive or complete. When confronting transsexualism in family situations, especially considering a generation gap, having my grandmother be an Oprah fan has paid off on the basic introduction.
But, sometimes I feel that the media leave so many gaps in their version of our story, yet delivering it with such confidence that viewers can feel like they've really learned something true and profound. I come across the whole variety of perspectives during the late night youtube scan but I thought I'd share one tonight, with my commentary and rebuttals.

Section One, two and three of a program on FTM transitions, from what looks like a mainstream (LivingTV2: a British) TV Station.
Dirk seems smart, recognizing that his family and potential stressful relationships with them, would be more pain than it would be worth, the narrator plays this emotional well being as tragic. The way the narrator describes the government bureaucracy process as dehumanizing is right on the money, although the following example is so problem free it might be hard for someone who has never been through anything similar to imagine how awkward, confusing, stressful, and dis-empowering that experience can be. The narrator has no need to reveal Dirk's former name, the people in the office don't reference it so it would be of no confusion the the viewer, and is used as a purely sensationalizing tactic to make viewers associate Dirk with his "female self". This is the same sort of tactic employed with the strings of old family photos, images of transmen with long curls and dresses to show the woman in them, however forced, dysphoric and awkward as he might be.
"Exactly why transexuals should struggle for social acceptance is not clear, " this statement itself is incredibly unclear, is she pondering why we aren't accepted, or why we would bother to fight for acceptance and civil rights. It doesn't seem to match up with the clips from Jamison Green's interview and I can't seem to think why they chose that as the intro to an interview with so many possible feeders. Jamison, being experienced with media like this and being an old hand in the trannie game doesn't have any problem talking about his life as a young woman, but this is obviously something that is played up for the same reason I explained before.
The media also loves sensationalizing transsexuals through science.

So granted there is little chance that a medicalization of trans people is avoidable in this setting, at least they could get terminology right. This is horribly confusing, you would think they are talking about FTMs when they use the term transsexual male. Only when they describe taking estrogen one would realize that they are actually slipping in something about transwomen. The internal debate of the narrator, wondering if biological proof that transsexualism is real would be enough to legitimize sexual reassignment surgery is something which I sometimes forget exists. I socialize with so many people daily who have tattoos, piercings, and other body modifications, and they seem to understand changing ones body and feeling good about making those choices far more than mainstream straight edgers can seem to wrap their heads around.

The doctor from Toronto seems to feel that psychological assistance could be a viable alternative to transitioning, which, depending on the method could work for some, but I'd like to take his idea and kick it to the next level, what if instead of analyzing the life out of trannies, why don't we analyze where societies problems with transpeople lie and re-educate ourselves about how to teach gender to our children to take the stress of a binary gender system off of our potentially trans or gender variant children. Giving them lessons of empowerment, diversity and self confidence in the face of adversity.

The show has a pretty clear take on wanting us to know the "women" behind all of these transmen. Introducing post-surgery Rian as Rachael was completely unnecessary, and more confusing to the storyline, as the narrator then has to jump back and forth over pronouns like a flea on a dog. If "she" is living full time as a man, why would the narrator/writer/producer feel required to give "her" such an introduction? Is it because we are about to meet his identical cisgendered twin sister? Is is because he isn't on T? Showing his sister apologizing and legitimizing her excuse for not using his name allows people to feel that that sort of behavior is for some reason acceptable. Guess what twin sister, you probably aren't the one who is the the most "troubled" by this, it's probably more something your brother could really use your support on. This is too common, family and friends wanting trans people to make concessions for them, because it is soooo hard to remember what name or pronoun to use. Well, think for a moment how hard it could be to be the one called the wrong name or pronoun, again and again and again, sometimes in settings where that sort of incongruity is exactly what Dirk's girlfriend mentioned about safety concerns of transpeople. The same incongruous safety concern occurs when a male appearing individual gets called Mary or Alice in the wrong place at the wrong time by some family member or friend who is "having trouble"with their transition.
As for raising kids with trans gendered parents, aunts, uncles etc, we all have different levels of personal comfort on the subject and to what level it is public knowledge. But like I said before; if we change the way we teach gender, and if our infants understand that girls aren't always girls and boys aren't always boys, and introduce the family member the way they would like to be referred to with the level of disclosure that they feel comfortable with those lessons are a whole lot easier to get into.
Testosterone can change your physical appearances greatly, and some might say that they are nearly unrecognizable, but the way that the narrator describes this makes it seem like some sort of jekyll and hyde alter ego monster transformation.

She continues with sensationalized terms "like inner turmoil of reversing sexes". She describes Dirk's transition as something that has cost him dearly with results uncertain, and that Rian's loneliness comes and goes. Taking these human feelings, that are genderless, of wanting to be loved, and feel like you belong, and attaching them intrinsically to ones transition is a false presentation. The media loves portraying transsexuals as extraordinary beings on extraordinary quests, facing extraordinary circumstances to be perfectly ordinary. I'm sure there are lots of us extraordinary beings that are instead looking for space to be extraordinary, but I don't see us finding it on the commercial airwaves anytime very soon.

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