A reader writes:
As a 23-year-old transgender woman and a big fan of yours, I’ve struggled with your clear misunderstanding and discomfort with the topic. I no doubt agree that from a strategic standpoint, a marginalized community has to be patient with folks who are struggling to understand.
Having said that, I think you are dead wrong that the public is entitled to know about Laverne Cox’s medical history simply because she is talking publicly about being transgender. If Laverne is comfortable talking about her privates, that’s fine. That is everyone’s individual decision, but the notion that 1) journalists think this is a totally okay question to ask, and 2) that people feel entitled to the answer even after a person explains that it’s personal, is both disturbing and reveals an inappropriate double standard. I would venture to say that any non-trans person’s genitals are just as important to them and their experience of their gender as any transgender person’s genitals, and yet no one would dare ask a similar question to a non-trans person.
Perhaps you view this as too prudish. Maybe. But that’s not the point. It’s the fact that a general dignity is granted to non-trans people that is not granted to trans people. Would you seriously chastise Tammy Baldwin or Ellen DeGeneres for refusing to answer questions about intimate details about their sex life? Trans people shouldn’t be expected to bare all in order to achieve equality.
Finally, RuPaul has been “cast aside” because her show mocks trans people and she refuses, as a non-trans identified person, to stop using an objectively derogatory slur. Reminds me of your disgust at Will & Grace.
One small rebuttal: I don’t think I’m “uncomfortable” with this subject. I find it fascinating. I’ve just become nervous in discussing it because of the extreme defensiveness and anger that many – but not all – in the trans community seem to be stuck on. Another:
As a former long-time reader, a founding member of the Dish, and a trans woman, I hope you’ll take the time to read my response to your recent, rather frustrating piece on transgender activism. Hopefully my response will help you to understand the details of why we’re so frustrated.
You wrote: “No writer wants to unleash the hounds of furious, touchy trans activism.”
If trans activists are touchy, it’s only because we’ve been treated so poorly over the years that we’ve effectively developed PTSD (recent estimates put the incidence of PTSD rate in the trans community at 1 in 6). There’s a reason “tranny” is considered a slur by the trans community, and it has nothing to do with RuPaul using it and everything to do with the fact that it’s what many of us hear as we’re beaten to a pulp, raped, and murdered.
Take, for example, the two trans women who were assaulted last week on public transit in Atlanta. What were they repeatedly called? “Tranny.” This is the same reason the gay community does not wish to be called “faggots” and takes offense when the word is used by people who do not consider themselves gay.
Returning to the so-called “language police,” RuPaul has been repeatedly asked, for years now, not to use slurs in his show. He has repeatedly ignored these requests, often responding with violent, misogynist, hateful language towards those who would dare question his choices.
You wrote: “Any minority […] has […] to explain itself to the big, wide world […] there is no need to be defensive about it.”
And the first few times we have tried to explain ourselves, we were perfectly civil. But at some point, when your repeated explanations are ignored, a change of tactic might be necessary. Had we not gotten upset, this conversation would never be happening, and we would continue to be thrown under the bus by the rest of the GLB community, just like we were after the Stonewall riots (many of the rioters were trans women of color, a fact which some members of the gay rights movement later tried to erase from history), with federal employment non-discrimination protections under ENDA, numerous other cases, and most recently, very nearly with the recent non-discrimination ordinance in Houston.
Moving on to the question of whether random strangers have a right to know about the genitals of every trans activist, I think the answer should be clear, but apparently, it wasn’t.
You wrote: “Laverne Cox […] refused to answer a question about whether she had had her genitals reassigned as too ‘invasive.’ Sorry, Laverne. But if you’re out there explaining yourself, you’ve gotta explain all of it.”
On a similar front, as a gay activist, do you feel obligated to explain intimate details of your sex life and anatomy? When you have sex with your husband, do you top or bottom, or is that off the table as too invasive? You have also repeatedly lobbied for an end to circumcision; have you had foreskin reconstructive surgery yourself? When did you first realize you were unhappy with being circumcised? I’m only asking because the public is curious and wants to know.
A simple point: since reassignment surgery is often intrinsic to a full trans identity, it is relevant to understanding that identity in a way that the appearance of one’s junk is not relevant to the question of being gay. Another sends the above video:
My friend Kris came and stayed the night at our place (I first new him as Kristen) and I was getting used to his new identity. In the morning I drove him to the University of Richmond campus – a fairly conservative town and college – and dropped him off with his “Ask A Tranny” sign in the quad where he was holding it up with a smile. I couldn’t help be a bit worried about him, or think, “what position are you putting yourself in?” The thing is, he didn’t care. He was happy and out there just engaging and answering questions – open to ANY question, brave, and engaged, and above all, happy in the world. He’s at peace with who he is and any questions other people might have. I’m sure I asked some questions that might make me seem ignorant to some, but that is what he puts himself out there for. To take a gendered phrase, he has balls on him, but coupled with real good will towards others.
And for those reasons, he’s a hero.